I worry a lot about not taking advantage of Yale’s library resources. Early in my Yale career, I quit every panlist I’d been strong-armed into and signed up for the e-newsletter Nota Bene: News from the Yale Library.
I liked this publication, which has headlines like “OHAM [Oral History of American Music] Announces Wolpe Acquisition and Increases Jazz Holdings” and briefly made me want to journey to a medical school exhibition space to catch “A Soviet Poster Campaign Against Venereal Disease.” I loved the acquisitions lists. There, I learned that Yale had North America‘s largest collection of Italian/Abyssinian Occupation propaganda postcards and had just acquired a guide to the prostitutes of 18th-century Covent Garden entitled “Kitty’s Attalantis.”
Leaving parties as an underclassman, I’d think of stranger, better fêtes I’d read about in Nota — “Library celebrates 150 years as a Government Documents Depository,” a Babylonian Collection Centenary Concert, the 10th birthday of BorrowDirect.
I had a problem as a freshman that I still have now — I barely use Yale’s libraries. As a student in the English major, I don’t write many research papers. But my problem has a broader cause, one many undergraduates experience but which afflicts me with obviously abnormal poignancy: surrounded by the vast resources of a research university, I am no scholar. I like learning, but I never really want to make an argument. I want to make some facts up. My papers are bad. Yale’s libraries, which I love, are made for other people — the brighter, clearer thinkers, more single-minded, more meticulous than I.
For years, I experienced Yale’s libraries touristically. I signed up to be shown around the Sterling map collection. I applied for student jobs at the Beinecke but did not get them. I lugged books home sometimes — on one occasion checking out a stack with publication dates predating white settlement in my home state of Washington! — tasting the pleasures of research. But I remained sidelined at the library, a fan.
Enter, belatedly, my Bucket List. It is not too late to grow my footprint in the library system. Recalling Nota, I saw my ambition to up my library usage as an altruistic act. I’d read the stats — “764 patrons took advantage of extended library hours, with a total of 23 percent more undergraduates using the library.” They wanted me. And they were keeping track.
So how would I do it? Would I “Ask! a Librarian?” Would I text my time-sensitive request? Would I invent some composite assignment that would send me trekking from the Medical History Library, with its over 300 printed incunabula, to the Horace Walpole Library in a historic house in Farmington, where “members of the staff would be delighted” to show me Pennant’s “A Journey from London to the Isle of Wight”?
No. I would start with my Personal Librarian. And how quickly things progressed. From my Personal Librarian, I was directed to another librarian, who pointed me towards another librarian, and there I was, standing in the heart of it all — Manuscripts and Archives.
I felt fraudulent. But emboldened by my appointment time, I stepped inside. I’d asked to examine some of Yale’s LGBT collections to research context for a fiction project I am working on. My goals were vague — imagine lesbians better? — and I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t turn to secondary sources. But no one questioned me.
Nervous, I read every word of the licensing and copyright agreement, pretending I was a person who read every word of licensing and copyright agreements. I donned my name tag, hung my coat and, for the first time, entered the hushed room of the researchers.
On the other end of the room, I spied the box I’d ordered. The people around me all looked like they’d been doing this for days. This was the first room I’d been in since elementary school where every table had a pencil sharpener. Every chair had wheels. Why? The other people knew. I reached my box and shook it. Was that appropriate? They’d brought it in a truck from Hamden for me. Hundreds of letters were inside.
Later, I made sure to exit through the library. I turned the corner, past the Judaic studies showcase, past a Babylonian tablet exhibit and out into Sterling’s striking nave. I turned back. I’d missed the labels. This is what I loved — “Rimush: Atrocities and Prison Camps,” “Shulgi: Consummate Bureaucrat,” Rim-sim, the king who murdered the murderer by ordering that he be thrown into the hottest oven! These tablets were 4000 years old.
Oh, Yale’s libraries! I would be back in the manuscript room soon, rifling through — no, examining with new exactitude — some of the University’s youngest documents. I’d started my research.
Kate Lund is a senior in Silliman College. Contact her at email@example.com.