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Archive for the ‘literary lifestyles’ Category

Did you know that I’ve hidden a quote in a book in the library, and if you find it you can win a Stephen King hardcover novel?

Did you know you can rent DVDs out the wazoo down in the lower level of the downtown campus library?

Did you know that the library itself is actually two buildings on the main campus, and that there are five in the system?

Did you know that there are now ebook collections?

Do you know where the bust of Dante is?

Did you know that the library has one of the largest collections of books by Isaac Asimov, as well as large collections of Mark Twain and Shakespeare?

Did you know that there are librarians that like to text answers to you?

No? Read on. With the help of some librarians and students, I got to poke around in the nether regions of one of the more interesting places I’ve been in.

I am the son of a librarian. I’m also the son of a mechanic, but for some reason I turned out to be a bibliophile, much to my dad’s chagrin. I have a healthy respect for libraries, especially libraries that are adapting to today’s technologies and oft-changing times. Anyone in the digital media market knows how volatile it can be with DRM platforms constantly changing, along with the devices people are using (Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone, etc.). Students are demanding folks, especially undergrads that have never been around a strong, university library system.

The atrium is a lovely place to study, and marks the separation of the "old" and "new" libraries on the downtown campus.

Here in Morgantown, at West Virginia University, is a lovely collection of libraries. Individually they are known as the Evansdale, Health Sciences, Law, Charleston Health Sciences, and downtown campus libraries. The most action – and intrigue – is found at the downtown campus library. When I first entered the library last semester, I got lost. For those who haven’t been indoctrinated, the downtown library is actually TWO libraries—the Wise Library (or “old” library) and the addition to the front of it, simply called the downtown campus library. You’ll also notice that if you take the stairs on the front half of the building, you’ll end up going to floors two and four. In the back half, you’ll have to go up a flight of stairs, and then go up a half flight of stairs on either side to access places like the Robinson Reading Room. If you want to access the rare book room in the Wise Library, you have to go to the back left elevator, go to the sixth floor, and then walk across the access hall into the other building. Let’s just say that you’ll want to stop by the main desk for a map if you have to look something up.

At that main desk I had a chance to chat up Linda Blake, the electronic journals coordinator and science librarian. It turns out that what my librarian mother always said, “If you don’t know, ask a librarian,” is true. If you think about it, most librarians have to have a master’s degree in a field like information technology. They’re pretty savvy, and they put to rest the old stereotypes of bitter women with peacock glasses and a hatred for children. If you talk to someone like Linda Blake, you can find out a lot.

Librarian Linda Blake and her assistant, Jaclyn Carenbauer, a freshman studying social work, at the main desk of the downtown campus library. When in doubt, ask a librarian!

“Did you know about the Asimov collection?” said Blake, “There was even an article in the D.A. (Daily Athenaeum) today about it.” And so there was. Turns out that over 600 Isaac Asimov books now reside in the downtown campus library, and you can take a look at them.

“Or how about the bust of Dante?” Blake was referring to a beautiful bust of 13th-century poet Dante Alighierhi. There’s a fascinating story that can be found here, regarding the history of the library, where in 1940, Italian immigrant Thoney Pietro commissioned the bust to be given to WVU “as a token of his appreciation of happiness which had come to him since his arrival from Italy.” In short, it took 19 years for the bust to find its way home, after spending some time in the Library of Congress. For those in Morgantown not indoctrinated in the history of Pietro, you can check out pictures of one of his houses on Kingwood here, or a rendition of his “castle” (an old friary) here. (You really should take a look at the friary, at least). Blake stated that on her tours of the library (oh, yes, there are tours), the history of Dante’s bust is one of the stories she tells.

Thoney Pietro's bust of 13th century Florentine poet Dante. It's located in the Robinson Reading Room, one of the "deep quiet zones."

But if you want to catch a glimpse of history, you should take a tour of the rare book collection. Librarian Christy Venham gave me a short tour.

On the sixth floor of the "new" library, you can access a hallway to the Wise Library, home to the rare book collection.

When you go, the process is pretty strict. First, you need to check in with one of the students at the entrance.

Criminology freshman Dominic Lowman is ready to check you into the rare books section of the Wise Library.

He’ll have you fill out a form if it’s your first time in the rare books section. If you have a backpack or purse he’ll give you a locker key. Then you’ll be monitored when you look through the books. White gloves keeps the oils from your hands from rubbing off on the books. You can always ask curator John Cuthbert any of your questions.

The hallowed grounds of antiquities, history, and culture

More of the rare books collection

“We’ll let you take books into the Stealey Manuscript Reading Room, and you can only have a pen or pencil, paper, or a laptop, and nothing else.” said Venham. “We have security cameras and one-way mirrors to observe the readers.” Needless to say, the experience is something all students should go through. “Some classes come here—a variety of English classes are assigned to rare books.”

Venham wants students to know that to look at the rare book collection you can only come on Monday through Friday.

But if you’re like most students, you’ll probably want to know the cool stuff, like the fact that you can check out DVDs in the lower level, a floor a lot of students don’t think of venturing to. Linda Blake wants to remind students that the collection isn’t “browsable like Blockbuster,” and that if you want to find out ahead of time what you might want, go to the media section of the website, and look up DVD or VHS.

It’s also good to know that you can always text or instant-message a librarian one of your questions. And if you’re really into the digital world, it’s good to know that WVU is building an Ebrary, and Blake is in charge of around 30,000 electronic journals.

Of course, if all else fails, you can still go make out in the stacks.

The stacks. Just to the right you'll be able to find the book I hid the clue in.

And speaking of stacks, here’s your clue to win a new, hardcover book by Stephen King—Under the Dome. There’s a book in the stacks that has to do with one of Americana’s finest writers and humorists on the subject of the Mississippi River. There is a rare, first edition book in the rare books that you can view, but librarians will ask if you’ll read one of the other editions downstairs, like the one I hid the clue in. I’d give you the call number, but that would be too easy. Here’s another hint: the rare book collection has the 1883 edition. I’ve hidden my clue in a 1957 edition. The first person to write the clue down in the comments section will win. Disclaimer: Librarians and library staff are exempt from winning.

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HELL ON EARTH: A Harry Potter book release party

I’m sure most of you have worked in the service industry. It sucks. And usually we can thank the random, oddball customer for making those jobs suck. I’ve waited tables, I’ve sold cell phone plans over the phone, I’ve bartended, I’ve been a cook. But the best/worst customer service job I’ve ever had has been as a bookseller. I’ve heard many people tell me, “Man, I should quit my job waiting tables so I can go sell books,” and I always have to offer rebuttals. For instance, you may have to wait on a picky customer at a restaurant. But that person will usually be gone within an hour. A bookstore patron will never leave. Restaurant patrons usually come in twos or fours. Bookstore patrons are loners; solitary wolves that are usually alone for a reason. Restaurant patrons can secretly insult you by leaving you a bad tip. Bookstore patrons have to resort to much, much worse things to get “even.”

Although I haven’t been a bookseller in Morgantown, I’d have to wager that the industry is the same
everywhere. My friend, Briana, worked at a library, and she regaled me with tales of strange and unusual people. Just after she told me some stories, I read in the news about a man that was caught bathing in the library bathroom, and was arrested for possessing a few pounds of stolen cheese. My mother was a librarian for many years, and she never had a dull day. People would bring their kids to the library and drop them off … for eight hours at a time. “It’s their own government-funded daycare,” she said.

It seems that where books are shelved, strangeness abides.

So what does this have to do with Morgantown? I called and visited with and solicited the opinions of several booksellers and baristas around the area, in addition to some friends and colleagues. I gave them the chance to share some of their stories and tips about customer etiquette. Going against my journalism roots, I have agreed to keep most folks anonymous, and you can understand why. I have comments from employees at two Barnes & Nobles (University Centre and WVU), the Book Exchange, the Wise Library, and Books-a-Million. If you’re on Twitter, let me suggest following @GrumpyBooksellr—you won’t be disappointed. I’ve inserted some of his/her comments in with the rest.

Without further ado, here’s a tip sheet for customers. Warning: it’s not rated.

—I don’t give a shit if you can find the book online cheaper than you can find it here. You want it now, you buy it now. No, no we aren’t going to give you a discount.

—No, we aren’t Borders, and no, we aren’t going out of business. Yet. (Customers have been coming in asking for the ridiculous sales due to some Borders stores closing after filing for bankruptcy)

—Phone: Do you sell Amazon Gift Cards? Me: What? No. Phone: My wife has a Kindle & that would be nice. Me: I’m a bookstore, not Amazon. (GrumpyBooksellr)

—If you’re going to order a half-caf-soy-ice-frappa-crappa-macchiato-with-caramel-sauce-and-whipped-cream you best be tippin’.

—Oh, I love it when people think the café is their freaking living room. A little guy came in here the other day and spent my entire shift here. He did homework, he talked on the phone, he read about 20 magazines, he played on the Internet, he even brought some of his own food in his giant backpack. He left his mess for me to clean up, and he had folded the magazines over to read them. I think he justified this because he bought a small coffee when he first arrived. No tip.

—Dear Self-Published Author: It’s not my fault you lose money on every sale. No is going to buy your whiny self-discovery schlock for $24. (GrumpyBooksellr)

—Guys, please pee in the stand-up urinal. Flush. Wash your hands. DON’T TAKE BOOKS IN THERE WITH YOU. Gross.

—Well, it’s always frustrating when someone asks for a book they just heard about on the news and they don’t know who wrote it, what it’s called, what it’s really about. My only clue is that if it’s in the news it’s probably a new release.

—Kids should not be allowed to play “Marco Polo” in the stacks.

—It’s not a library. People can talk to each other. If you don’t like it, um, go to a library. But people probably talk there to. Maybe you should just go home.

—Please don’t put the Bibles in the gay studies section. Please don’t put the Bibles in Fiction. Please don’t put Glenn Beck in gay studies. Please don’t put Sarah Palin in Fiction. Although it’s really funny where Palin turns up sometimes.

—Me: Sure, I’ll tie up ~$300 ordering art books you may not want when you see them. No Problem. We are all about customer service.

—It’s a sex book and you’re buying it. Get over it. (On the various men that get really nervous when buying erotica or ‘how-to’ manuals)

—Dude, I really want to puke when the high schoolers come in here and make out and fondle each other. See that chair? It’s for one person, not for two people to dry-hump each other.

—Me: No, Please, kick the mud off your shoes *after* [you] get to our carpeted area. (GrumpyBooksellr)

—This isn’t the movies. There’s no need to bring your food in with you while you browse.
—I have waited tables too, and there’s something that restaurants and bookstores have in common that no one will tell you: leave your damn kids at home. We hate them. Some of them. Well, most of them. No, we hate them.

—Me: I know you’re enjoying your time here but, please, don’t whistle along with your iTunes while you read. Not everyone knows the songs. (GrumpyBooksellr)

—Hey, we love it when people think we’re the world’s greatest place to take a dump. I had a customer actually tell me we had the best public bathrooms. TMI, creeper. Please don’t use my name [when you write this]. He’ll know exactly who I am.

—For some reason a lot of Asian kids ¬ students ¬ try to order their textbooks through us. It’s really hard to explain to them that it’s best if they order textbooks online or at a textbook store. Welcome to America, home of nonsensical businesses. So if I had to give advice to customers, I’d tell them to get their textbooks elsewhere.

—Me: Don’t drag me around asking all sorts of questions about every book, then telling me you can get it cheaper somewhere else & leave. (GrumpyBooksellr)

I will take some time to regale you with my own bookstore stories in a future post. They’re awesome. Meanwhile, for those of you who stay tuned, I’m working on a Wise Library book scavenger hunt to win free hardcover and paperback bestsellers. Keep an eye out for the clues to come.

Sarah Geiger and two little Potter minions at the coloring station. This is why booksellers do what they do. Sorta.

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