Subtle Coolness · chrono index · alpha index

The Life Science Library

by William Jackson on 2005-11-18

Iʼve heard that there are over 50,000 students enrolled at my school, theUniversity of Texas, and Iʼve often wondered where everyone is. Iʼve decidedI want to find out.

Armed with a robust iBook that I checked out from the Flawn Academic Center,Iʼm going to try to visit some lesser-known places on the campus anddescribe what I find. Today Iʼm in the Life Science Library.

This library is everything a library should be, and probably has been forlonger than I have been alive. Iʼm in the “Reading Room”, a long rectangularroom with lots of windows providing natural light. All around the walls,where there arenʼt windows, there are shelves full of books and periodicals.There are several big wooden tables with big, uncomfortable wooden chairs.There are even several standing-height desks with ominous-lookingdictionaries on them.

I just walked over to check: Weʼve got Websterʼs Third New InternationalDictionary (Unabridged) open to “chiffer - china aster”. Thereʼs a cuteblack-and-white drawing of a chimpanzee in one of the columns.

Another volume of the same edition is open to “hanker - hard”. The onlypicture on the entire page is a hansom—the kind that Sherlock Holmes usedto ride around in.

Also on this desk are three large atlases. They are open to Australia, Japanand Canada. One of them was printed in 1986.

I was sitting near the “new periodicals” shelf a few minutes ago whensuddenly, three people came out of nowhere and started to stack up all themagazines and take them away. Then another man rolled a book cart over andfilled the empty shelves with new new periodicals. I suppose this happensevery week. I should probably feel awed that I was here when it actuallyhappened.

In the entry hall of the library, near the circulation and information desk,are several glass cases displaying various copies of Don Quixote. Thereare forty copies total, all in different languages or from different timeperiods. Apparently, we have quite the collection of rare copies of DonQuixote.

Next come the stacks. The ceiling is only about seven feet tall. The spacebetween the shelves: three feet at the most. Browse through back issues of_Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology_. Go up a level to find yourfavorite issue of Protein Engineering. Go down a level and crack open the_American Journal of Physiology_ Vol. 1 Num. 1 (January 3, 1898). The veryfirst article is entitled “Influence of Borax and Boric Acid upon Nutritionwith Special Reference to Proteid Metabolism”. That sounds like a realpage-turner.

Back in the Reading Room, I forgot to mention the quotes painted on theceilingʼs support beams. Hereʼs one of my favorites, in modern English:

O would some power the gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us
And foolish notion. [Robert Burns]