Saturday, October 9, 2010

An Exposing Paper Trail

CU Boulder has long been heralded as “the greenest campus in America”. How did we accomplish this? Shame and social outcasting mainly. For example, the trash cans here aren’t labeled “trash”, they’re labeled “landfill”. And when you open them, a mechanical voice says “WHY DO YOU HATE THE EARTH?!” That hasn’t actually happened yet, but I’m guessing it will be the next project after tuition undergoes its annual increase. Peer pressure plays a large part  in our “green status” as well. I once sat in the student center and watched an unsuspecting freshman throw her diet coke bottle in the trash...not the recycling bin. Collective eye-shaming ensued as everyone she passed tried to make eye contact with her and silently communicate that she was being judged.
The newest trend on our eco-friendly campus is to go “paperless”. Instructors are encouraged to provide reading materials online, and collect assignments via email. With this kind of college education, you can imagine how long it’s been since I’d been to the library. I never needed to! My avoidance of the library might also be due to the fact that I once saw a homeless man emerge from the basement shelves early in the morning. Oh that’s not scary? I’m sorry, have you ever been sleep deprived and looking for a copy of “Titus Andronicus” and suddenly stumbled upon a hobo nest?! He didn’t even look embarrassed! In fact, he looked annoyed at me for interrupting him. What was I supposed to say, “Oh sorry sir, I didn’t realize shelves A-D were reserved for hobo lairs.”
Anyways, I needed a specific book for an independent study class (aka study hall for college students)-- and they only carried this book at the library. So I had to brave the deep dark labyrinth of Norlin Library in search of this particular book. My adoring sister decided to accompany me because I had the keys to the car and she needed a ride home. The call number of the book proved to be our first obstacle, I looked it up just fine. Deciphering it was the problem. So I decided to solicit the help of an underpaid library worker:
Me: “Um hi, I have a question”
Bored library guy: Blank stare
Me: “uh… I have a …. question”
Slightly annoyed, bored library guy: “mhm go ahead”
Me: “Oh okay, well I have this call number- PX90.12 H345- 69F.0012- yeah, where exactly is that?:
BLG: “Upstairs in the stacks”
Me: “Upstairs? Okay…. so how many other books would you say are up there?”
BLG: “Probably like a million or so”
Me: Now slightly annoyed “Okay so based on your description, I have a one and a million chance of finding this book”
At this point bored,annoyed library guy is becoming angry library guy. He grabbed the book from my hands,
BLG: “See this code?  This code is like a treasure map.  It will give you directions to the book...It’s really quite simple.”
Me: “Okay thank you…. Captain Hook” Maybe you should use a map to find yourself a better personality.
My sister Lauren and I then walked upstairs into the massive collection of books known as “the stacks”.  After searching in vain for the PX row, Lauren was starting to get restless. She picked up a title off the shelf, Raccoon Living, “Here how ‘bout this one”.
Fatigue was setting in and we were starting to get at each others nerves. “Wow, thank you for that suggestion. As much as I’m sure my professor would love to read an essay on the unique challenges of raccoon life, probably written by the hobo I saw earlier, I would really prefer to find the book I need.”
Apparently Lauren had picked up a psychology book along the way, because after a brief silence she said “Laine, let’s talk about your feelings tree. What’s growing on it?” After clenching my fists several times in an effort to release tension, I finally managed to reply. “Violence. Violence is growing on my feelings tree.”  This greatly amused my sister who continued her Dr. Phil session. “You know, you really need to pull up those roots of bitterness and replant some happy seeds. Trim those sad branches Laine …” I started to tune her out when I saw what looked like a valium on the ground. Sweet deliverance! But it was only a wad of gum. My violence was beginning to peak when we finally found the PX row. At this point, we still needed to find the 90.12 section.
As I was searching, I heard a girl a stack over talking to her friend.
“Stacy, I don’t know if you heard- but Nelson Mandela got let out of prison… in 1990. And like, he went to the world cup. OMG!” I decided to “prune my branches of ridicule” and refrain from commenting on this situation.   After all, they didn’t have twitter back then. How could she have known? Fortunately at that point we found the 90.12 section and successfully located the book. One more minute spent in that library might have resulted in a forest fire as my feelings tree neared spontaneous combustion.  Besides, my internal monologue was starting to switch over to a British accent. I know I’m not the only person who does this, okay, I know of at least one other person who has admitted to speaking like an Englishmen while in the library. Unfortunately, she’s out of the country right now and is unavailable for questioning. No that is not convenient. I’m trying to prove a point here, so in what sense is that convenient for me? The other explanation for this sudden shift of intonation is the fact that being in the library makes me feel like I’m in a Harry Potter movie. I thought I’d have a harder time finding social support on this point, but I’m pretty sure I heard a kid say “Accio book”once…
Finally we made out way out of the stacks and into the main checkout area.  Bored library guy was looking at me with a smug look on his face.
“I see you found the book. I guess one-in-a-million odds aren’t impossible are they?”
I started to raise the pen in my hand and whisper “Avada Kadavra” when Lauren asked me what I was mumbling, “Nothing.” I told her. “Just planting some seeds of affliction- er I mean affection.”
We checked out successfully and started to walk towards the car. As I looked up, I saw an inscription on the granite above the library door. It read: “Medicine for the Soul”. In some sense, I had to admit that this trip through the library gave me insight into the heartbeat of the community- much more than a simple internet search on Amazon ever could. I guess “going paperless” has its drawbacks too (sorry environment). Maybe that hobo had it right-- after all he saves resources by living in the stacks, while still preserving the library itself as a celebrated historic tradition. Maybe next time instead of just bringing my call number, I’ll bring a pillow too!

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