I didn’t enter the Hesburgh Library at all during my freshman year. I only learned how to check out books last spring when I had a research project about the musical “Oklahoma!”. I got to use a book from Special Collections for that paper. They sent someone down to the vault to find the book and the nice librarian kept it on hold for me for two whole weeks. I wasn’t allowed to check that one out—I had to go to the reading room and prop the book up on foam bolsters and hold down the pages with silky beanbag snakes. It all felt very academic.
I don’t think many people really explore the library. They see it as a place to come and suffer during finals week, or maybe as a “warm cut” to get from the parking lot to North Quad in the winter. I’m going to come here more often, sometimes to do work, but maybe sometimes just to wander about.
I’m supposed to be writing two papers tonight. I finished one, so I’m taking a blogging break to write some more. Productive, huh?
When I arrived, it took me a while to find a good place to settle down. I scoped out the basement, but it was too crowded down there. Same thing on the first floor—every desk was taken, and I didn’t want a squashy chair with a swinging tabletop. I prefer to spread out a bit. I hopped in the elevator with three other students. “What floor?” “Umm…four,” I guessed.
The fourth floor is home to Languages and Literature. The fourth floor is jam-packed tonight. I paced through the stacks, searching for a bay of carrels where I wouldn’t have to huddle next to a stranger. No luck. I was hyperaware that my tennis shoes might squeak. I stepped lightly and quickly, but my footsteps seemed to echo loudly against all of the metal shelves. Back to the elevators.
The eighth floor has more Languages and Literature, but also Law, Education, and Political Science. “One of my papers is a political science paper…maybe being in the presence of the masters will help me,” I thought halfheartedly. All of the tables by the windows (and the outlets) were occupied, so I looped back to the elevator bay.
As I write this now, I actually don’t know where I am. Lost in the library twilight zone. I think I’m on the tenth floor, but it might be the eleventh. Ten is home to Eastern and Western Hemisphere History. Eleven has Eastern Hemisphere History (but not Western), Genealogy, Biography, and Denominations. I am nestled in a cozy nook, surrounded by tomes of French history. The books here are so beautiful. I picked a good row—all the books behind me are old, bound with horizontal ridges and gold detail. Some of them even have ribbons to mark the pages. They are all pretty, except for three shelves of utilitarian-looking volumes of “L’Annee Politique”. But I can forgive the stark blue books because there are 61 of them. Every “annee” since 1948.
As I wrote my first paper, I slipped off my shoes. When I finished writing about jihad and the Central Asian states, I took a little stroll to stretch my legs. Padding through the stacks, I paused to admire the books and scan the titles. I breezed by German and Austrian history, skipped the French stuff, and came upon some chronicles of the Irish past.
A row of what might have been Russian texts caught my eye, and I pulled a lovely embossed book from the shelf. THWAP. A slim brown hardback fell and hit the floor. It must have been wedged behind or inside the book I meant to grab. “Shhhh,” I exhaled unconsciously, my half-formed obscenity a librarian’s admonishment. The little book fell face down. I quickly snatched it up and read the cover—“Edvard Benes: In His Own Words”. Who’s Edvard Benes? What were his words? I flipped through to find a date of publication. There was no copyright information to be found, but red-inked stamp told me that Notre Dame had acquired the book on February 5, 1945.
I looked up my new friend Edvard on Wikipedia. He was the second president of Czechoslovakia. He served in office from 1935 until 1938, and then he was president in exile from 1940 until April of 1945. When Notre Dame bought his book, the world was at war, and Edward was in exile in London.
The check out card in the back of the book was blank.
Do people actually see, touch, read these books? There are so many of them. There’s no way that all of them are loved and attended to, or even admired at all.