As much a Harvard tradition as Mr. Test, Frank Corliss '27 is not half so elusive. Students see him more often than they think, some on their way to and from classes, others when they decide to catch up on studying before hourlies. He's the Lamont Library book checker--the man who asks for your bursar's card as you rush to the reserve desk, and inspects your books when you leave the building.
Corliss is not the only one who mans the entrance to Lamont; students and other Harvard employees also work there, primarily on weekends and at night. He is, however, the "nice old man" most students expect to see when they enter Lamont.
He does much more than just check cards and books. Corliss probably dispenses as much information as the office in Holyoke Center: everything, he says, from how to get to the airport to whether a building belongs to Harvard or Radcliffe. In a whisper, he tells a fairly constant stream of women the combination to the locked ladies' room. His cubicle serves as a storage area for students' personal belongings, "especially around Christmas, when everyone's carrying lots of packages." When it suddenly rains and you've forgotten your umbrella, he cheerily dispenses plastic bags so at least your 20-page paper won't get wet.
Corliss taught school in Boston after his graduation from Harvard 51 years ago. "When I retired I didn't want to sit and watch the grass grow, and I didn't want a headache job," he explained. He came to Lamont eight years ago, and now works a tolerable 25 hours each week.
I have a 9 o'clock class every morning and we all come in in a rush. I just go through and smile, without taking out my card. The whole class does it now, I think. --Basil P. Bourque '82
Corliss insists he really does know everyone he lets through without asking for Harvard identification. "We know most of them by sight.... The ones you get to know are the ones who don't just come in at the change of classes. Sometimes the girls will fool you--they come in with different hairdos, say you always used to know them, but you don't--so I ask for their cards anyway."
Lamont has required users to show their bursar's cards for only the past four years. "We used to have trouble with outside people who came in from the Square," Corliss says. "We couldn't ask them for I.D. if we asked no one else. Now, if they don't begin to reach for their cards, we ask for them."
Corliss says most students are very cooperative about his examining handbags and unsealed packages as students leave the library. When the circulation desk area is relatively quiet, he watches the attendants check out the books and then doesn't have to ask students to see them. Otherwise, he insists upon seeing the inside back cover of every book--although he claims he has no idea of which books are most borrowed, because he rarely sees the titles of those books.
"Once in a while you get someone whose book from Widener is overdue, and we can't let them leave the library with those. I tell them to take it through the tunnel or hold it for them for a few hours...and once in a while some people get really burned up over this. Generally, though, we try to make as little nuisance of ourselves as possible. Most students want to get on their way, and I want to help them."
Relatively few students have substantive conversations with the library checkers. "There are a few, though, who will tell you their name, and ask you yours, and talk about the weather, and politics, and the Red Sox, and, well, you know...."
Throughout the day, a few people are bound to forget their bursar's cards -- but that's no problem. A girl comes into the library who's forgotten her wallet. Corliss whips out his clipboard, and she's signed in. A grad student comes in just to drop off some reserve books, so he doesn't have to show his card. A slightly nervous guy enters with two non-Harvard friends whom he wants to "show around"; Corliss lets them through immediately without any formalities. He's a nice guy.
I was carrying a whole lot of books and couldn't get my bursar's card out of my back pants pocket, so he stuck his hand in and took it out for me. He really checks everything. --Paula Newnham '82