Thursday, November 3, 2011

"You must travel down to the House of Death..."

Today was the first time I really checked out my college's library. It is a little strange that I have been here for two whole months already and had yet to make a real pilgrimage to the library. The reason is mostly that I have yet to write a research paper and my consumption of novels has dropped drastically because of all the reading I am being assigned for my classes. But I wanted a look at a book on Medieval weapons, so I embarked for my first foray.

My school is justly proud of its library. The building has three floors, which the student body has playfully named Heaven, Purgatory and Hell in descending order (the third, or basement floor, being Hell).

So I entered Heaven where we keep the computers DVDs, CDs, and reference books (also where you go if you want to check your email) and looked up the call number for The Book of Swords and began my odyssey. I discovered shortly that because we have so many books we use the Library of Congress method of cataloging stuff, a system I have never encountered before. (It's by genre??? Maybe? Anyway, there does not appear to be any alphabetizing going on which makes everything so much more confusing. I've got to find the BH3454.U7 shelf. Hmmm....) The catalog entry informed me that my book was to be found on the third floor (down in Hell), so I went down the wide curling stairs into Purgatory where the books spread foreeevvverrr in every direction on big tall shelves that block your view of anything else but books, books, books and more books. Purgatory also has the best studying hidy-holes because of how close the shelves are packed to each other. This is where you go if you have a paper due in a week. I looked around for a bit, enjoying the enormity of Purgatory, and decided it was time to be on my way.

Then I went looking for Hell. Hell is where you go if you have a term paper due TOMORROW. It's scary down there. But I wanted my Medieval weapons book, so I steeled myself and went back to the curling stair case that came down from the first floor, hoping for a vast chasm in the ground so I could make it down to the next floor. Apparently the curling staircase does not go into Hell. Its stops in Purgatory. The Epic Stair Search began.

I did the loop of the edge of the library twice. I found two sets of bathrooms, four mechanical closets, sixteen private study rooms with people in them that looked up at me every time I walked by, three water fountains and two sets of stairs that only go up. All the while, of course, I was getting a kick out of searching for stairs that would take me down into the underworld. Finally I found a map, did a third loop of the library and found one staircase that goes down.

First of all, Hell is air-conditioned. It is also a lot smaller and has more books than I thought it would. Persephone must be a reader.

There are collapsible book cases down there too. So much fun. You punch a button and they all thunder together, opening up the row you selected. We are told they are supposed to stop before they mash you, but there are always urban legends floating around about mushed students being discovered around finals time.
Then I found the the weapons books. Joy. Bliss. We should rename the floors the other way. They had a whole shelf of books titled things like: Fencing in Elizabethan England and The Medieval Archer. I almost hopped up and down which made all the Hellish term-paper writers look at me meanly and bare their fangs a little bit.

Then I quietly collected my things and ascended into Heaven and now am in love with our library.


  1. The library at the University I went to for my undergrad was superb. Seven floors, and just about any book you could ask for. They even had The Times newspaper going back about 200 years (and I mean newspapers--not microfilm). I actually spent an evening there looking up all the original Jack the Ripper news stories from 1888. It's a shame they closed at 10pm every night. Or a good thing. I might have moved in. :)

  2. I didn't even think of that. I will have to go back and see how far back our newspaper and magazine archives go.

  3. I think college was the first time I encountered the LOC system, too. I love your description of your library. Ours didn't have a "hell" per se - it was pretty new - but ironically, I kind of thought of the divinity school library as hell because everything was really cramped and it had unusually low ceilings :)