Anyone who has ever used the movable stacks of Pusey Library has probably wondered what would happen if someone actually got caught between the sliding rows of books.
Last Tuesday, Senior Lecturer on Psychology and Assistant dean at the Extension School L. Dodge Fernald found out.
Around 2 p.m., as the professor searched for books on children's psychology, one of the movable shelves in the sociology section of the P3 level closed on his left arm, breaking the ulnar bone in his left wrist.
"It was closing in," Fernald said in an interview yesterday. "I realized that it was going to keep going. I was afraid that both arms would be caught so I yanked them out, probably then breaking my arm."
Fernald said he remained calm, but then passed out on the library floor next to the stacks. He was revived minutes later by library security guard David Muir.
The professor said that he was thankful that only one arm had been trapped in the stack.
"What would have been really bad would have been if both arms had been caught," he said. "Then I couldn't have yanked my arms out. I would probably still be there."
Fernald said that he had been in the process ofbringing a chair into one of the rows of stacks sothat he could sit down and browse, when anotherPusey patron a few shelves down pressed the buttonactivating her stack.
In order to conserve space, library officialssay that some stacks are designed to moveelectronically at the touch of a button. But thesystem is supposed to guard against patrons beingcaught between any two stacks.
But because Fernald had not put his weight onthe floor of the stacks, the electronic devicecontrolling the movement of the stacks did notregister his presence, and the stack closed onhim, trapping his left arm between the chair andthe shelf, according to Director of HarvardCollege Library Security and Public Safety LouisH. Derby.
After being, revived, Fernald said he did notimmediately realize the seriousness of his injury.
"I just wanted to go back into the stacks toget my book," he said.
Fernald first refused the medical assistanceoffered by Muir, but then accepted when askedagain a few minutes later. Derby said that Muirthen accompanied Fernald to University HealthServices (UHS).
Fernald said that he was examined and X-rayedat UHS, and his left arm was put in a cast to beworn for a month.
The professor expressed his gratitude to Muirfor his promptness and sensitivity in assistinghim. "He was excellent--very helpful andsupportive. He was there very quickly."
Fernald said yesterday that he had hoped tokeep this incident relatively quiet, but that hehad been encouraged by colleagues in thepsychology department to discuss the incident.
"I wrote what I thought was a humorous letterto a friend at the library so that I would be surethat they knew about it, and that was that," hesaid.
Derby said that the incident was being takenseriously by library security.
"Right after this injury happened, I ordered acomplete check to make sure all the safetyswitches on the movable stacks were workingproperly," he said yesterday. "We then contactedthe vendor of the stacks, and set a meeting forthis Thursday to discuss additional safetydevices."
Derby also said that library officials areconsidering additional means to keep the stackssafe, including putting more signs near the stacksinstructing patrons on proper usage.
"I want to make sure we are doing everythingreasonable to make sure people are safe," he said.
Fernald decided to tell his senior psychologyseminar how he broke his arm, saying that he feltthey might be curious about his cast.
He said that he gave his class three guesses asto what had happened to his arm. "First," he said,"I fell in the bathroom. Second, I hurt myself inthe library. Third, I hurt myself exercising."
Not surprisingly, none of his students guessesthe second option.
Fernald said that he returned to the stacks ofPusey the day after his injury to continue hisresearch