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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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