Okay, what sounds like popcorn and smells like green tea? What tastes like brownies and looks like the newsroom at the Beeville Bee-Picayune 50 years ago? What on earth is going on in the library reading room? That’s what lots of students were thinking yesterday as they followed the firecracker-popcorn sounds and discovered the first-ever letter writing social in full swing. This social was totally retro, with noisy old manual typewriters, jazzy music on scratchy 78 rpm vinyl, yummy baked goodies and tea served up in actual teacups with little saucers under them—what do you do with those saucers? There was even real, sugar-sweetened “soda-pop” bottled in antique 7-ounce bottles. I mean, maybe it comes from shelving books every day and all, but our beloved librarians know how to cut loose and have an old-fashioned, tappity-tapping good time.
Really, when was the last time you wrote a letter? For me I think it was a letter to my mother back in the Paleolithic Era, before they invented smart phones and Google docs and ipads and cloud clients, when I still had an attention span of more than 140 characters. I was totally impressed with the eagerness and soda-pop-inspired vigor with which students took to typing letters on old machines with names like Remington and Smith Corona and Olympia and…Johannes Gutenburg, practically. Students took to typing on these cranky old machines like they were testing the latest 3D Android. There were even quill pens and inkwells and sealing wax for those who were waiting their turns and wanted a real trip down collective memory lane. Maybe it was all the green tea I drank, you know, but this eardrum-jangling event brought a whole knew meaning to “writing requirement” for me.
You know those dreams where you are running like crazy and not getting anywhere and your voice is hoarse from yelling and you fall down in some impossibly contorted position and hell’s minions crowd around you and smite you with sticks while people chant and cheer incoherently? Well in my case it was not a dream, but actually the annual broomball tournament on the ice pond last weekend. Yup, 11 teams, with bodacious names like Anarkids and Hez-Balla and Walter Hendrix Experience and Iron Phallus, all competed in a slippery, sloppy, double-elimination tournament over two days.
In the end team Evil, actually a nice bunch of students well versed in irony, claimed the coveted golden broom after reaching the final round undefeated. They also won some very fashionable Marlboro “Dead Tree” medallions and gift certificates for the bowling alley. Another highly favored team, Chewbacca Flocka Flame, lost to Evil in the first round, and was eliminated in the third round. A surprise showing was made by the Movies from Marlboro crew, known as Jay Craven’s Chain Gang, which made it to the fourth round before falling to Tequila Mockingbird. This team chanted the 1958 pop hit “Tequila” so many times that fans longed for their demise, which finally came in the fifth round. The winner in the costume category was the Newsies, named after the Disney flop cult hit where everyone apparently wears vests, barely beating out the Climb’n Lobstahs.
But the real story was the staff/faculty team, Shiva and the Benevolent Destroyers, who won their first game against the Anarkids in quadruple overtime (apparently the first time that’s happened) and went all the way to the final, apocalyptic match against Evil. This is despite losing their co-captain and star “sweeper” William Edelglass, philosophy professor, who broke his wrist playing broomball earlier in the week to demonstrate the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, dukkha or “suffering.” William was there on the sidelines, taunting team Evil with such zingers as “You know that evil has no ontological existence, it’s just the absence of good!” Shiva and the Benevolent Destroyers mustered all the superhuman moves a Hindu deity could manage while sliding helplessly on the ice, with star performances by faculty members Kyhl Lyndgaard, Adam Franklin-Lyons and Martina Lantin. Evil prevailed this time, but beware. I mean, just wait until next year when Shiva dissolves the universe for the creation of the next cycle, and restores the balance of good and evil to free liberated souls from bondage with the physical world. Maybe it won’t be so slippery, too.
I used to think of libraries as dark rows of dusty old books that nobody looks at, where someone keeps saying “shhh.” Of course the Potash Hill o’ Books is something else again: Did you know that the number of books checked out of the Rice-Aron Library is 40 per student per year, five times the national average for small colleges? Here you’ll find well-lit bookshelves and comfy chairs where even a page-turner like the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata could not keep you awake. And I have never heard anyone say “shhh.”
Yesterday I had a crash course in doing library research, as part of the class called Finding Stuff: Research Methods in the Humanities, taught by history professor Adam Franklin-Lyons and Amber Hunt, reference and technology librarian. We sat around what I like to call the library latte bar, the marble counter in the main hall recently outfitted with comfy stools and a digital projector and, despite all my valuable advice, no espresso machine. We threw around some big words like “metadata” and “controlled vocabulary” and “keyword searches,” which Adam likened to a steamroller when compare to what he called “focused browsing.” Here’s the cool thing: the students used the library’s fleet of green netbooks (we nicknamed them the “turtles,” because they look pretty rugged) to share what tasty new books their particular focus browsed on.
Each student, or pair of students, followed a “subject field” search to a particular book of personal interest, sort of a mini field trip into the bowels of the Dewey decimal system. Then they browsed the group of adjacent books for other titles that struck their fancy, and took a photo of the shelf to share with the group back at the latte bar. There were some great finds out there in the areas of Indian history, ethnography, mushroom taxonomy, Mayan culture and appropriate technology. As Adam and Amber pointed out, we have all done this kind of browsing before, but we learned how to use the catalog to our best advantage and make our browsing less like a steamroller.