The Magic Of Interlibrary Loan

Chapman revoked my library card last week.  It’s because I’m not a student there anymore, and not because of the late fees I’ve paid every semester.  No really.  I promise.  I always return things eventually, and I always pay.  They like kids like me.  They’re making money off of my inability to keep dates straight, and I get to read amazing things.  It works for both of us.  Or it worked for both of us.

I’ve been forlorn about not having access anymore.  Interlibrary loan is my favorite thing in the entire world.  The Chapman Interlibrary Loan people are some of the best around, and they can get ANYTHING.  When I was writing my senior thesis, the man behind the marble front counter handed me a crumbling something between two duct taped sheets of cardboard.

“For library use only,” he said.  “You can’t take it out.” 

“Can I copy it, if I need to?” I asked. 

“Yeah, no problem.”

I went to the collection of armchairs on the second floor.  Wide windows look out on the piazza below where water pools between four square pillars.  I sank into a chair and lifted a corner of the cover.  It was about the size of a half sheet of paper, a yellowed pamphlet about the importance of sign language written in 1914 by the National Association of the Deaf.  It was not a copy.  It was the actual pamphlet.  I almost cried.  It was just so beautiful.  I still have the black and white duplicates I made in a brown, faux leather binder at home.

“I once got an actual 18th century French field manual through Interlibrary Loan,” said the dedicated History librarian when I told him about it. 

This is in addition to all the amazing books the library always has.  I’ve worked my way through the large section they have on Deaf culture, all the books on the American Puritans, and cut a swath through the vast Young Adult section.  They have the entire collection of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, and I keep thinking I need to read them all.  It seems that whatever my latest obsession becomes, they have the books to support the habit. 

All is not completely lost.  I found out from a newsletter that I can get a special alumni library card.  I did a little dance sitting at my work computer when I found out.  It takes seven days for my card to travel through the mail, after I fill out the form and upload a head shot.  I pulled up the website immediately, and clicked through to the privileges an Alumni card gives.  Interlibrary Loan is not one of those things. 

I get it.  That department has enough to do, tracking down obscure copies of primary source material for the people who are actually studying or working there.  I’m disappointed, though.  As wonderful as their library is, I can’t order up snippets of the past and pick them up two weeks later.   I can’t touch the pages people touched hundreds of years ago.  I will never again take a duct taped sleeve of cardboard from the hands of the person at the front desk and uncover more than I thought was possible.   

It’s enough to make a girl want to get a Master’s Degree.

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Categories: History, Life | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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