Monday, October 30, 2006

Murder in the Stacks

I actually once worked in a library with gargoyles.

On my very first day of employment in this sprawling, seven-level gothic building, I was given an orientation by my boss that stressed the particular importance of one special bit of instruction. "Make sure," she insisted, "you do the 'Murder in the Stacks' training as soon as possible." As I toured the facilities, I was pretty sure I knew exactly why she felt this was so critical.

Like many of your creepier libraries, this building featured long, lonely stacks of books on quiet, isolated floors, not at all unlike The Overlook Hotel. Since a significant part of my job involved hunting through rarely-traversed corners for mis-cataloged books that had been lost to mankind for decades, I quickly became familiar with many of its cranniest nooks.

For whatever reason, the zombified human resources department was dragging its feet when it came to the critical culmination of my training. "You haven't done 'Murder in the Stacks' yet?" several of my co-workers anxiously asked. No, not yet, and I was out there every day in those murderous stacks trying my best to not do an impersonation of a scantily clad cheerleader in a slasher movie.

Aside from the general creepiness of the echoing stacks full of dusty volumes, I began to imagine the dangers lurking around every corner of the library. "If I were a crazed serial murderer," I thought, "what better venue could I find for nubile young victims than a massive, quiet library full of sleepy students and not a conscious security guard in sight?" Each day that passed without the invaluable, potentially life-saving training made me want to solidify the contents of my last will and testament and wrap up all my unfinished business on this mortal coil.

I then began to consider the building's own potential for creating homicidal madness. I had gotten myself lost in this labrynth of books plenty of times already, and I could well imagine a young college student's psychotic break under the awful pressures of undergraduate academia. What better place to stow away a body for several months than the Chinese-Japanese-Korean archives whose catalog I maintained and whose stacks were never, ever, ever visited?

Then there were the potential horrors of the space-saver stacks. Plenty of the books for which I hunted zealously were quite possibly hidden within these mechanically shifting shelves, perfect for trapping and smashing a human victim in a sadistic replay of the Star Wars garbage compactor scene. Without the "Murder in the Stacks" training, I was clearly living on borrowed time.

When the appointed day finally came, I was shuffled into a spare broom closet of the humble human resources headquarters. I inserted an ancient VHS tape with a yellowed label on which the faded legend "Murder in the Stacks" was faintly visible. I thought admiringly of my many brave co-workers for whom this vital piece of almost-martial arts training must have proved invaluable on their own forays into the harrowing stacks of horror.

As the videotape crackled to life, I began to ask myself why such a critical vessel of life-saving information was being narrated by poorly-outfitted second-year drama school geeks? One was dressed in a moth-eaten approximation of a Sherlock Holmes costume while the other's thrift store polyester suit was apparently meant to portray the dear Mr. Watson. Through the appallingly amateurish British accents of these literal sophomores, I puzzled out the true meaning of "Murder in the Stacks." What they illustrated for me, in excrutiatingly repetitive detail, was the proper method for handling the many old and fragile volumes the gargoyle-ridden library held. What it all boiled down to, in a crystal of information I could have absorbed in an eight-second demonstration, was, "Don't pull the books off the shelves by the top of their spines! Handle them very, very carefully! Don't commit book murder in the stacks!"


I still never liked the looks of those college students.

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Blogger GypsyFolklorist said...

Are you sure that it isn't April Fools Day, instead of Halloween?

2:49 PM  
Blogger craftyminx said...

Great story!

4:24 PM  
Blogger craftyminx said...

I am sooo jealous! You got to see Harry and the Potters and Draco and the Malfoys!?! BOOO!

7:57 PM  
Blogger Adjective Queen said...

I'm pretty sure those space-saver stacks are going to be featured in an upcoming episode of Dexter.

Have you seen OU's History of Science Collection? They have some cool space-saver shelves. And it's creepy in there, too.

7:31 AM  

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