Battered Books


HARVARD IS FULL of annoyances during reading and exam periods--besides the exams themselves, of course. Someone always finishes the semester before you, making your plight seem all the worse. Dining halls echo with a thousand whines. One of the worst of these plagues comes in three Day-Glo colors: the highlighter pen.

Although books in the undergraduate libraries bear a warning that deliberate markings are grounds for disciplinary action, this provision seems to be enforced rarely if at all. Gumchewing, Walkman-clad culprits crowd the libraries, marking the books in neon pink, sky blue, or margarine yellow. Of course, the highlighter pen is not the only device used to destroy Harvard's books. Some annotaters opt for the more efficient method of making brackets in the margins--which at least annoys future readers a little less. Others add their own insights. "This is stupid," or "Imperialistic bull"--as if to clue in the world as to the true nature of a particular passage.

It's difficult to understand how marking up library books helps these people study. Reserve books, after all, circulate overnight at the longest. I guess they mark up a book and then reread the sentences that glow in the dark. Or perhaps it is common practice to ask for the copy they have marked up next time they check the book out. I saw someone do this once, the person behind the desk handed it to him without blinking.

Beyond this, many of the markings in books don't make any sense at all. Users of highlighter pens often resort to the "roadblock method"--just as police road-blocks stop every fifth car, these people highlight every fifth sentence. "I have never forgotten it. They charged thirty-five cents," read a highlit sentence in one book. I hope someone remembered that one for an exam.

But irritation aside, there seems to be something larger at stake: respect for books. And students do more than deface books; some go through bound volumes of magazines and rip out the articles that interest them. It is sad to think that the love of books is extinct at one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Harvard's libraries should, if possible, pay more attention to the highlighters. Granted, it would be difficult to keep a record of the condition of each book. But at the very least, people with the audacity to deface books on library premises should be hauled before the Ad Board while the Day-Glo ink is still wet. It won't enforce respect for books, but it might have some impact on the immediate problem.