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Copy Kat

The Trials of Xeroxing at Harvard

By Sarah Jacoby

As research paper deadlines approach, students must venture into the stacks of the vast Harvard library system. After navigating Hollis and obscure on-line indexes, braving the elevators of Widener, physically moving the stacks of Pusey and staring bleary eyed at 20 digit call numbers in dim lighting, several desired books may finally be located. For the lucky few, the found books are circulating ones (the library allows them to be checked out) and the library adventure is over after proceeding to the nearest student disguised as librarian. For many, however, the fun has just begun.

Faced with a non-circulating book, two possibilities face the diligent student. If she did not save her research until an hour before the library closes on an evening perilously close to the due date for the paper in question, she has ample time to settle down in the reading room and take careful notes. But if she is less prepared and the library is shutting down in a half an hour, she must face the dreaded Xerox.

This doesn't sound like so formidable a task, but photocopying is in fact one of the more time consuming and challenging steps of writing a research paper.

Balancing the load of dusty tomes, this poor student must begin to search for an available copy machine.

Stairs are almost always involved, and with a stack of books clenched in place under her chin, the mission commences. A fair number of machines are occasionally out of paper or ink or both, or in use by a fellow student who appears to be copying most of the books in the library. But if, after climbing (if she's lucky) two flights of stairs a free and working copy machine is located, she can move on.

The prepared student either has tons of change or has already added plenty of money to her Crimson Cash account. No obstacles should prevent her speedy completion of the task at hand.

But the frazzled student has forgotten to plan ahead and has neither change nor Crimson Cash. What does she do now?

The worst case scenario is that the library is closing and she must go home and come back the next day, hopefully better prepared.

The better case is that she has money and needs only to add to her Crimson Cash account. But she can only do this if she happens to be in the Science Center, Lamont, Tozzer, Widener or Hilles. If, however, she is in a library like the Fine Arts Library, which has an extensive non-circulating collection and nowhere to add Crimson Cash, she must think again.

In this case, she must either trek to the nearest properly equipped location or to a nearby store to get change, or she must find that sympathetic friend who waits by the copier to save the day.

If she finally manages to get to a Crimson Cash-friendly location, she may pull out her wallet and add those crisp bills in small denominations.

Sometimes there are one and five-dollar bills still salvageable by carefully pressing out the creases. But the bank only gives 10s and 20s, so that may be all there is in her little change purses. And who wants to spend the entire last $20 on photocopying, anyway? It seems extravagant to commit that much money to photocopying even if it will eventually be used up in the remaining years here.

And crisp? If she doesn't have a wallet but only a change purse with crumpled up, scrunched money, she is in trouble. For such money is completely unacceptable to the unfriendly machine.

Sometimes the machine deceptively accepts and then spits back out her dollar bills, and she can only wonder why that particular dollar is not up to par. But once the machine refuses to accept her she is again stymied in the attempt to copy.

So there lies this well-intentioned student with crumpled $10 bills and piles of books waiting to have her pages copied in the 20 minutes before the library closes. From 9a.m. to 5p.m. she could have added money to her account with a credit card, but it is rarely 9a.m. to 5p.m., and she may actually not have any credit cards.

So she finds it completely impossible to photocopy those books. Thwarted by the anti-Xeroxing conspiracy, she leaves in frustration.

Exploring libraries always takes much longer than expected and there is not always time to run to the bank for money, Store 24 to buy a small purchase, race to a library with a Crimson Cash machine, add money and still have time to battle the copy machine that insists on cutting off the top of each page of odd-sized books.

Writing a paper is total effort; it does not just consist of the thought process and actual writing, but also of the labor and exercise involved in overcoming the system of Xeroxing the necessary books. We surmount broken photocopiers, many stairs, long lines, torn money, mean machines and $10 bills to write our opus.

Sarah B. Jacoby is a sophomore living in Mather House and a Crimson editor.

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