I’m like you. Don’t worry, not entirely, but like you, I miss the library. I find the mods frustrating, and frankly, I don’t understand where our books are. I have questions, and I’m sure you do too. Where are our books? Why can’t I see them? Will I ever read again? How can I get books on this campus?
What is this Article About?
Since the closure and ongoing destruction of First Bae, Olin-Chalmers, the once simple process of checking out a book has been thrown into disarray. I heard many rumors of its replacement coming into this year: All of the books have been moved into a top secret bunker behind the KAC, handled by Top Men, like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I heard that there would be a delivery system where they would deliver the books by hand with nothing but a messenger bag and running shoes. No, it’s a bike system. No, they’re taking a van. The books will be delivered within a half hour, like Domino’s pizza. The books will never get to you.
So what does a guy have to do to get a book on this campus? I went in to find out. I went to the forbidden warehouse of books to see exactly how the process works, and I’ve come back to tell you all about it.
Now, the library staff was initially distrustful of me, and frankly, I don’t blame them. I’ve taken shots at the 2020/Master Plan before, and I came from the website that wrote this (I was accused, I’m innocent). Not to mention, they are very protective of this Facility. Its success and the success of the mods for students is very important to them.
“We are just as frustrated as the students are, sometimes maybe more so. But we think the best thing to do about it is make it work and that’s sincerely what we’re trying to do.” That’s Amy Badertscher, Associate Vice President for LBIS and Library Director. “We want students to know we’re on their side.”
“I think if I literally just put that quote in the article that would help show that.”
Two days and one somehow convincing meeting later, I’m up another rainy Saturday at the crack of noon to meet my guide Taylor Hazan ’19, and see how LBIS gets you the book you need, without having the library to do so.
It starts when I meet Jonathan Lawrence, the Library Services and Access Services Supervisor, a kind and very tall man who promises to take me step by step through the process of requesting a book from the library. I request The Hobbit, and I want to tell you that I did because of its subtitle “There and Back Again” to parallel the faraway journey I took. In truth, it’s because the infinitely wise Jonathan Lawrence said “Can’t go wrong with The Hobbit” and frankly I trust someone who puts that much faith into a book.
What Do I Have to Do?
If you’re a student, all you have to do is request a book on CONSORT just like you would for a book from another school. The only thing that’s different is that the book will say KEN in front of it instead of DEN or WOO. From there, all you have to do is sit and wait, and the book will be brought to you within a twenty-four hour period. The library will email you when it arrives, and you’ll have your book.
If you’re Jonathan Lawrence and the library staff, it’s a different story. From there, the request is put on a paging slip, essentially a piece of paper that details all the information about what book is requested, who’s requested it, and where it can be found in the stacks.
These paging slips are sorted out based on whether the books are coming from the other schools in CONSORT (Denison, Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan) or Kenyon. The requests from Kenyon are separated and given to two library staffers, who are chosen to bravely trek all the way past South 3 to the mysterious Library Storage Facility.
How Do They Get There?
Any books requested or returned go through the Facility via deliveries by the van. The van goes down to the Storage Facility twice a day, once in the morning (or afternoon depending on the day) and once in the evening. The workers go in pairs, for safety reasons. They load up the van with books ready to return, and they are on their way. The driver and my guide’s safety partner M. pulls the car out of the LOADING spot across the way from Peirce, which is both somehow on and over a speed bump. The van itself feels like the car your friend’s mom picked you up in when you carpooled back from soccer practice. It’s cozy. M. agrees with Taylor that this is “the ideal car for a road trip” which is maybe perfectly fulfilled when I notice the engine light is on. At this point we are already by the KAC, and M. tells me it’s fine as long as the car still drives, which it has.
“We’re still trying to work the kinks out,” Taylor says. Intimidation aside, it’s too late to turn back. We have gone to that forbidden region past the KAC. We drive by South 3. It is godforsaken, populated by people the world forgot. We drive further past South 3, to a row of warehouses, maintenance facilities. We drive past all of them until we reach the absolute last one, the Library Storage Facility. M. drives to the spot, and turns the car around completely. Taylor, incredulous, asks “You back into the spot?” and M. tells her “I try” as she sings “I’m not a good driver,” despite pulling off the maneuver with a blind and impeccable accuracy. Think Willy Wonka at the end of the tunnel scene. Frantic piano, and Taylor turns to me to say, “We’re here.”
What’s This Place Like?
Initially I imagined a Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse. Taylor suggested the perhaps more Kenyon-relevant comparison to the Hall of Prophecies from Harry Potter, and having been there myself, it is more Potter than Raiders. It has the smell and feel of Costco, with the towering bookshelves you see in depictions of ancient hidden libraries. Also helping the Harry Potter comparison are the lights that turn on just before you walk under them. It gives the dual impression of being magically assisted (Harry Potter) and always followed (1984). There is even a Restricted Section in the Special Collections section of the warehouse, which is quite literally fenced off despite already being in a far-away warehouse only library employees have access to. Upon seeing it, I immediately start coming up with ways I could break into the area if I needed to.
“Please,” Taylor begs me, “don’t break into Special Collections. It’s a serious crime.”
“I’m not going to. I’m just saying it could be done if I—”
“Don’t. And don’t put that in the article.” I’m reminded again why the library staff was hesitant to send me down here.
Taylor explains that there are two major aspects of Facility-work; paging and shelving. Think of these as In and Out processes. The In-process, shelving, is fairly self-explanatory. When the books come back, they are first stage-shelved. They are put on an empty bookcase behind the organizing table in order to get a sense of where they need to be shelved. This needs to be done because the warehouse is massive. Not only is it about as big as Costco, but the shelves themselves are about twelve feet tall, and sometimes require these insane rolling stepladders that are harder to navigate than shopping carts but make Taylor feel like they’re “on top of the world.”
Paging is the Out-process. Workers take the paging slips, find them in the stacks and ship them out. I’m told that once the book is found, it’s sealed in an envelope, which is put in a sack, that is put in a container, driven away and shipped out. It’s true that this one change, driving it out from the Facility, has lowered the number of requests that come from other schools by a significant amount. Despite this however, Kenyon students can still get books from any other school in OhioLink the way they used to. And better yet, students will always get books from the Facility the next day at the latest. For the library, students at Kenyon are still, to quote Taylor, “our priority first and foremost.”
The initial impression I had before I came to the Facility was that book access was to become unnecessarily difficult out of oversight. That it was another arm of the administration’s revision of Kenyon, further writing the sense of community and care for students out of the future. Yet being here has shown me that these employees are hellbent on working through the difficulty, for our sake. The process is intensive. Employees spend three to four hours in the Facility working in order to get books to students as fast as possible. At the end of her first year, Taylor spent a week stage-shelving returned books. Not shelving them. Stage-shelving them.
“How long did it take you guys to move everything from Olin to Chalmers?” I ask Jonathan Lawrence.
“Oh,” he says, looking up and down the stacks, “A while. I couldn’t say exactly.”
“About how long would you say?”
“A month. Month and a half.”
Employees are allowed to listen to music on their phones to help pass the time, which has gotten me through more than enough shifts and commutes. I ask M. if they ever get stir-crazy working in the Facility.
“Not really. The music helps, and you get in a mood. Like when I’m up on the stacks I pretend this is my library and I own all this.”
“Like you’re some keeper of the world’s knowledge.”
“Yeah kinda. You need that. Without your imagination you’d go crazy. But then it’ll make me think someone’s following me. I get paranoid here sometimes. Walking through these halls I’m always afraid someone’s going to—” From behind M., Jonathan steps out from one of the nearby stacks, looking with Taylor for where to put a Journal of Indo-Judaic studies. M. turns around and shouts, “Jesus! That’s what I’m talking about Jonathan!”
All of this is to say, that in this weird new Library Storage Facility, everyone in the library is working their hardest to make sure that students get books fast. There’s no weird child labor bike-messenger ring, or delivery service. The Facility is an immense and impressive place, and the people who trek down there to help make our studying a little less horrible are a hardworking bunch, doing the best with the tough and sad circumstances of our dead library. All you have to do is go on the computer, and these guys do the rest. And aren’t these the kinds of people you’d want handling this?
“Remember,” Jonathan says to Taylor, “Having fun is never hard, when you have a library card.”
“Can we dab on that?” she asks.