This afternoon I spent several hours in the library. The main library at University Park is the Pattee and Paterno Library. Up until today I had only been in the Paterno Stacks (it contains books on many science topics). Most of my time today was spent at my usual location on the fourth floor of the Paterno Stacks, but I decided to take a quick break to explore the Pattee Stacks.
It was a case of curiosity squared. First, I’ve been wanting to read a particular poem. An old poem. A poem that I was not able to find on the internet anywhere. So I looked up the call number of a book that contained the poem; the book was in Pattee Stack 3. Second, I’ve never been in the Pattee Stacks but I’ve heard about them. I wanted to experience them for myself.
I was not disappointed.
When I entered the Pattee Stacks I initially feared I had accidentally walked into an area I was not supposed to be in. The lighting was poor, the ceiling was low, and there were no signs of life. The dim lighting, narrow aisles, low ceiling, and sharp corners made me feel like I was navigating a parking deck. When I reached the stairwell I was amazed at how narrow it was. How can this pass the fire code? I stopped at each floor to do a little exploring. Eventually I reached Stack 3 and located the book.
But the poem was not in the book. The poem I was looking for had been published in 1870 or 1871 (I have seen it attributed to both years), and it seems that most modern publications either exclude the poem or print just an excerpt. I scanned the titles in the area dedicated to the author’s work, looking for a promising lead.
When I was starting at Temple U part of the orientation process was an introduction to the university library. The head librarian was a gregarious woman (she seemed entirely too jolly and loud to be working in a library); whenever she talked I couldn’t help but smile because she was so happy and so forceful about everything. While she was explaining how to locate books on specific topics, and how using the computerized database was essential, she said: “If I ever catch one of you just standing by a shelf and scanning books, not looking for a specific title, I will kick you.” And then she laughed. And I laughed.
I think about that librarian any time I begin to scan a shelf at a library without a specific title in mind.
My scanning method worked. I noticed a multi-volume complete collection of the author’s work that had been published in the early 1900s. One of the books was titled Poems, and was published in 1909. Eureka!
The poem was good. I think it was made even better by the fact that it was in a book from 1909. The pages were heavy, you could see the indentations from the printing press. The page edges were rough and frayed. The inside cover contained a brief inscription in a flowing ink script far neater than most handwriting today. It was signed, “Father” and dated 1909. It was so much better than reading the poem online or in a modern reprint. Like eating a meal from a plate with real silverware versus a paper plate with plastic utensils.
If you spend time at University Park and have never been through the Pattee Stacks I recommend just walking through for the experience. It’s worth it.