BY NADYA ELLERHORST
Whenever I’ve said, “I’m headed to Morris to get some work done,” said work usually has little to do with the books on the shelves of this, you know, library.
I’ll walk through the rows of books and galleries of posters lauding the values of reading them as I make my way to some secluded study-cubby. Out of my backpack comes most of the technology I own. And, sure, I’ll read, but it’s primarily slides, scans or sites. If the imbibing of words is involved, it seldom necessitates any flipping of pages – just scrolling, maybe a bit of notetaking where needed and reaching for my water bottle and subsequently trying to set it down without making the slightest noise.
Admittedly, I haven’t used Morris for the purpose of homework much as of late (the student centers have sort of stolen my heart), although the study rooms and Student Multimedia Design Center have come in handy on many an occasion. This semester, however, I’ve actively sought to utilize Morris for the express purpose of good, old-fashioned projects.
The first time around, I hopped onto DELCAT Discovery assured I’d find everything I’d need. But perhaps I wasn’t using the keyword function to the best of my ability because DELCAT’s resources just weren’t cutting it.
I then did the unthinkable.
Instead of clicking the (eager) “Get This For Me!” option, I dragged my cursor to the “Map It” button on the DELCAT page of one of the relevant books I had managed to find. Bidding my friends in the study room with me farewell, I disappeared into the stacks.
I located the correct shelf and began squinting at the numbers on the lower spines of the books. I found the book I was looking for and even more that I didn’t know I was looking for, many of which had not come up on my initial DELCAT search. My friends seemed surprised when I returned from the depths of Morris with a stack of books in hand (to be fair, I did grab three volumes of a historical encyclopedia).
A few weeks later, having gained more confidence with this newfound methodology, I ventured further into the figurative and literal unknown. I charted out my library quest beforehand using DELCAT in the previously mentioned fashion, utilizing the print resources it had listed as sorts of clues and hints for what lay beyond.
On a Saturday afternoon, I found myself wandering the shelves in search of what I needed, occasionally just perusing for perusing’s sake. All throughout, I felt the pang of a vague childhood urge to sit on one of those omnipresent step stools and just flip through whatever book caught my eye. I wanted to amass a great big pile of books to haul over to some secluded corner and just look at, and, having had my fill, go back for more (politely returning the other books where I originally found them, of course).
Had there been a beanbag chair in the vicinity, I would have been done for.
However, the process of wandering through these walls of books in pursuit of knowledge both useful for my project and intriguing for myself still managed to be physically uncomfortable in a way I wasn’t used to. I was perpetually extending my arms upward to pull down this or that, crouching and straining to see what lay in wait on the lower shelves, all with a tote on my shoulders getting progressively heavier with every find. But somehow I found myself so immersed that it didn’t really register.
I was not led by any algorithm; just a map, a prompt, the Dewey Decimal System and my own chaotic curiosity. It was inexplicably both liberating and grounding. Here I was with the freedom to choose and explore a myriad of sources right at my fingertips on my own terms, all within the confines of a single, silent space.
Yet, for all of the curiosity it generated, the whole experience still managed to be existentially heart-wrenching. I was surrounded on all sides by books that intrigued me, but for which I’ll probably never have the time to read cover-to-cover. And in the end, I only had an hour to spare for the purposes of investigating. But I really won’t go so far as to turn a library into my go-to place for profound revelations about the fleeting nature of life and all that jazz. All the fun I had sleuthing about in pursuit of knowledge proved to be a more engaging circumstance to preoccupy myself with anyway.
I have ordered books from Morris for convenient pick-up at its front desk. I have acquired caffeinated sustenance from The Nest. I have used a variety of Morris’s services, from renting video cameras to recording voice overs to viewing documentaries about bioluminescence. I participated in the earring-making activity in its lobby during Banned Books Week and have shamelessly seized any freebies it offers, including my beloved Club Morris sticker.
But I can’t help but find it just a tiny bit mind-boggling that I had not really used the library in its most basic, fundamental sense up until this semester.
Why settle for perusing when we have DELCAT and rapid search engines and pre-assigned readings? What is the point of carving out time, undergoing arm and back aches and lugging around heavy bags? Why read more when we’re already assigned to read so much?
I for one have always said that I like falling down rabbit holes. Morris seems like a three-story one (not including the basement); only it’s oriented sideways, with infinity lining the shelves beside you instead of beneath your feet. All that’s down below is the ground to support you. And a step stool, should you need it.
I love this article. I may try to get off the computer and explore the stacks! I also have a beloved Club Morris sticker that I’m going to put on my fridge!