Last week, I went to Widener to retrieve an essay for my tutorial and found myself (a displaced history and literature concentrator) wandering around the psychology section a few floors underground. The book Satanic Ritual Abuse: Principles of Treatment, by Colin A. Ross caught my eye.
It was revolting and disturbing, so naturally, I couldn’t tear myself away. It wasn’t until the motion-activated lights in the stacks went off, leaving me reading about devil worship in a subterranean blackout that I panicked. Grabbing my belongings, I booked it up the stairs, too terrified to wait for the elevator. As I burst back onto the main floor, panting and sweating, I thanked God I was alive and not being forced to drink blood of small woodland creatures. I then spent the remainder of my afternoon reading this book cover-to-cover in the safe and well-lit periodicals room.
My terrifying brush with ritual murder brought to mind some much-ignored advice I received several years ago: Open stacks, my mom had told me for countless hours as we tooled down rural highways on a masochistic college tour, are a vital element of advanced education.
Of course, those of us who still remember the pre-application college visit know that it can be a uniquely traumatizing experience. My form of pseudo-public humiliation always came at the library stop on the campus tour, where my mom would wave her hand wildly and shout to the unsuspecting student guide, “Do you have open stacks?”
As I pretended not to be related to the zealous Midwestern woman beside me, my mom would either loudly praise the college for allowing students to roam the libraries’ holdings or berate it for its refusal to further academic freedom. She claimed that open stacks were the key to a fulfilling college experience.
At the time, I thought my key to a fulfilling college experience was at least 500 miles between my parents and my dorm. A book is a book, I thought, regardless of whether I myself was allowed to retrieve it or had to pluck it from the hands of a librarian.
Well into my fifth semester here, however, I’ve found the freedom and accessibility of our massive library system is one of the most rewarding aspects of a Harvard education. While we may have to wait for a librarian to retrieve rare 17th century manuscripts from the depository, the majority of books that undergraduates could want to access are, literally, at our fingertips. The mundane process of finding a book on HOLLIS and then swiping into Widener’s stacks is actually an act of academic autonomy that we are privileged to have. And as much as the average student dreams about a sexual romp in the stacks, those shelves are good for more than just a mediocre lay.
Emma M. Lind ’09, a former Crimson editorial chair, was a History and Literature concentrator in Winthrop House.For more information on the ins and outs of Harvard life, visit the My First Year homepage.