I know Harvard doesn't trust me. It hires proctors to watch my every move during final exams and provides me with special lamps lest I use my halogen irresponsibly and burn down my dorm. When I ate in Annenberg, I wasn't allowed to take an apple when I left, and clearing up a typo on my study card took three signatures and four phone calls--my word was worth almost nothing.
All this, however, I've taken in stride. The free lamps are great, and the proctors only occasionally misunderstand the directions and talk throughout the three hours of the exam. But the situation in the libraries has worn my patience.
Like many other students, I carry a lot of books. My backpack is usually filled with core reading or a science textbook, and I lug these books around so that I can do some reading between classes. As the hour of class comes, I pack in my books as best I can--it feels like a real world version of Tetris--and get ready to head to class. But I'm always stopped by the guard who wants to look through my bag, take out some unspecified selection of them to "check," and then lets me go, with my privacy violated, my bag disorganized, and worst, my chance of getting to class on time gone.
You might think this is reasonable--Harvard has many rare books, you might say, and could lose money. Worse, the books I want to read could disappear if they weren't careful, warn the librarians.
Sorry, but I don't believe it. First of all, the libraries have electronic surveillance systems. Any book taken out of the library should set off the system (and often, the system is set off when someone leaves with no books at all, so we know if it errs in any direction, it's oversensitive). More importantly, though, a peek into my bag has no chance of letting the guard know if I am taking any books with me. For goodness's sake, how stupid do they think we are? If someone wanted to take a book, they would do it, and the cursory check at the door would be no barrier. In fact, one door checker told me that they hardly ever find anyone stealing books. "And that's how it should be," he said. Right. So why the system that burdens every library visitor and requires a full time guard?
Widener, as we all know, does have some very expensive books. But Cabot and Lamont, where undergrads stop for short studying sessions, do not have such rare collections. Furthermore, the fact that they do are not sincerely concerned about book theft is evident from the checkers who just wave people by, in recognition of the absurdity of their position. But this recognition only makes the zealous checkers more frustrating.
Langdell Library, the law school library located behind the Science Center, has it right. Entrance is provided by an ID card swipe, removing the necessity for a checker in that direction, and the electronic surveillance system is trusted to do its job. No checker looks through the books I own to see if they belong to the library, and no checker ignores the other pocket of my bag where I do have library books but he has forgotten to check. Time is saved, money is saved, and books are just as secure.
And perhaps most importantly, I feel a little more trusted.
--Shira H. Fischer