The Tesco University Library?
"The Tesco Library" doesn't exactly trip off my tongue very easily. Not that I have anything against Tesco. The "Cadbury Schweppes Library" or even "The John Lewis Partnership Library" wouldn't sound any better. But I'm sure I could get used to it -- if it came with a few million pounds to keep the library as great it has always been. This year has been the first time in 25 years working in Cambridge that I have had a suggestion for a library purchase rejected for the sole reason that it was too expensive. And if a Tesco (vel sim) "naming opportunity" would make sure I got the books I needed, I would be happy.
So I dont really understand the fuss in some quarters about the possible Tesco scenario. There are all kinds of dangers in raising private money to fund university research. But they are all about the possible power that the donor thinks they are buying -- over policy, academic priorities, or appointments. If Tesco thought that, for their millions, they could have a say in what books were acquired, who should be allowed to borrow, or who should be University Librarian, that would be a different matter. We have a regular and generous donor to the Classics section of my college library. The letter always comes saying "the choice of books is of course yours". That's exactly how it should be,
For mega-donations, naming is a good way of recognising benefaction which doesn't hurt anybody. After all it hasn't hurt the Bodleian to be called after their sixteenth-century bank-roller, Sir Thomas Bodley.
I suspect the problem is that these names always sound faintly silly when they are first given, that it takes a generation or so for them to "naturalise". I bet Bodley's contemporaries were none to happy with the name "Bodleian", and I have no doubt at all that the dons at Cambridge would have found "Gonville and Caius College" a terrible mouthful, after Dr Caius had put his own fortune into rescuing the failing Gonville Hall.
I for one still haven't got used to calling "New Hall" by its new name, "Murray Edwards" (sounds more like a rugby prop than a college to me). But, as time goes by, whole generations of dons and students will never have known it as anything else and it'll sound quite normal.
The trouble about this fuss is that it may actually put off people who might have given their millions to the library -- fearing that they might be walking into controversy rather than gratitude. I rather doubt that many of the super rich read this blog. But if any of you are, please don't be put off .... in my selfish way, I'm realy hoping that one day we will be able to buy Poli Capri's series of documents on the excavations of Pompeii and roundabout
(And come to think of it, maybe it's time for Newnham College to be called after a person rather than a village?)