Thursday, October 15, 2009

Leslie and Aaron's Library Day Out!

According to Google Maps, the John Hay Library, the second oldest one on campus and the main library until the Rock usurped it in 1964 (a fact, trust us, according to Wiki!), is part of the Rhode Island School of Design. But we know better, having cunningly discovered that it is, in fact, affiliated with Brown.

This mis-attribution on Google's part is forgivable given that the Hay is not the most welcoming of Brown's public spaces. Despite its central spot, the Hay achieves the amazing feat of being somehow still "off campus". Done up in the "English Renaissance" style, despite its Vermont marble, the entrance to the Hay (the main one facing Prospect and not the dinky little service one on College or the mythical wheelchair accessible ramp) is 15 feet above the street, ascended via a recessed marble staircase, obscured with Corinthian pillars and fortress-like fortifications on all sides, and in general, a place that scares off freshmen. And even graduate students in MCM. ( I wonder who....) Unlike the other libraries on campus, the Hay only has the one door - a large, heavy, and opaque wooden door, a feat of strength is required to test one's eligibility for entrance. Contrasted with the open, welcoming spaces of the Rock, the SciLi, and the JWW - what with their open architecture that proclaims transparency with floor to ceiling windows - the Hay requires forethought before entry; one must want to enter and, in effect, plan to do so.

But yet, the Hay is the most accessible of the libraries, open to the public - no ID swipe necessary. Clearly here, architecture has a big part to play in secrecy and obscurity. In terms of value, the Hay probably boasts the most valuable collections at Brown - a selection of Thoreau's personal manuscripts, the whimsical Anne Brown militaria, and De Humanis Corporis Fabrica (a book on teddy bear collections). Such a treasured selection of historical publications ought to be a centerpiece of the Brown experience but paradoxically, because of the distance architecture has created, the Hay has been and will continue to be shrouded in mystery.

The Hay does epic fail in functionality even according to an anonymous highly placed source within the library's hierarchy. The books themselves have probably received numerous editions and plebeian reprints, most of which can be found at Borders of the Rock. The value of the books themselves are in the fact that they are first editions or antique prints - the information contained therein are probably outdated, discredited, or just proven wrong by modern scientific standards. Or just widely accessible through the wonders of the Internet. The Hay also boasts the closed-stack system - reading by permission only, and absolutely no borrowing. One has to be certified pen-free before entering, replacing your biro with a pencil - coffee, needless to say, is likewise verboten.

The Hay also has some questionable discretionary spending habits. Its impenetrability does not show the student body where some of the University's grant and bequeathed money, a not inconsiderable sum, goes to. While it is no doubt expensive to maintain the library's collections, a lot of it seems to be "wasted" - consider the Chaplain's stained windows on the 3rd floor that will never see a light ever again. This spending on what some might view as less than thrilling use of tuition dollars is kept out of sight and hence, out of mind. The power of secrecy might then quell discontent over questionable spending and keep the finances of the executive board of the college obscure and hence, ignored.

We are, however, not pissed off with the Hay. It is very pretty.

- Aaron Wee and Leslie Primack

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