It’s taken me three years to get to this place, but I’ve finally arrived: I enjoy going to the library at Hopkins. While I’ve sworn off of working in its cubicles and its studyrooms, there’s something truly wonderful about scouring its depths for research, and, every so often, for pleasure. I get that this is a ridiculous kind of thing to be discussing in summer, so let me reassure you, I’m also doing plenty of sweet Baltimore outdoors-ing. One example: JHU_Emily and I recently went to an Oriole’s game and got cheap (but enjoyable) seats; we lost, but we were surrounded by thoroughly entertaining O’s fans, and I ate two hotdogs in a row, so in other ways, we won big. The stadium was full, and the weather was perfect: what more could a gal want on a summer evening?
But in all honesty, most of my days are spent around Charles Village, first for work at JHUP, and then back at campus for thesis research (hence my opening declaration). The library and I have become far better acquainted than we’ve ever been in all my time here, as my advisor sends me to its lowest level every week to excavate books on literary theory and the visual arts in the Victorian era. We have an amazingly gargantuan collection that no one really talks about when they talk about the library, because it’s easier to talk about the work that people do in the library. But let it be known that if you’ve ever wanted to do any kind of research project — especially a humanities-related one — MSE is an underground, fluorescently-lit goldmine.
Most of it looks like this; no, it’s not stained-glass windows and wood panelling, like the university libraries of yore. But the breadth of the collection and the motion-activated lights are enough to keep me intrigued (plus some of the shelves on D-Level expand when you press a button, which I find unreasonably marvelous to watch). There’s something thrilling about descending a multitude of stairs and entering the quiet troves of MSE, on the hunt for a book you’ve never seen before with an unreasonably long call number that is stashed somewhere amidst about a million other scholarly texts of various sizes, shapes, and publication dates. Last week, I found a copy of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette that was published in the late 1890’s, casually hanging out next to some other more recent editions. Just this morning, I was walking toward the stairs when I saw a full shelf of books about Georgia O’Keefe out of the corner of my eye; I ended up flipping through a few for about 20 minutes and was almost late for work.
Stumbling upon things in libraries is a pretty standard thing, but the amount of texts stowed away in MSE is almost beyond comprehension, which makes every new find infinitely more exciting; somehow, I’ve managed to find this small bit amongst a seemingly endless array of knowledge. Even when my professor sends me for something specific, I always end up discovering more, wandering down other aisles just to see what happens to be lurking there. In some random shelf on C-Level, we have every edition of a yearly periodical from the 1950’s published by a bunch of map connoisseurs, where they just print illustrated maps they find interesting or weird (from ancient to contemporary) and write about why exactly they’re drawn to them. An entire shelf, devoted to that. Not a waste of space at all; just the opposite, I think.
But it’s important that I end with this: what makes the library so fun for me is that I spend no more than 30 minutes at a time in it; 5-10ish to complete a thesis errand, and 20 or less for miscellaneous meandering. And then, I’m out — I scamper up the stairs as quietly as possible, check out, and don’t really stop scampering until I get to Gilman to read through my research materials. The sense of mystery and depth and intrigue is maintained, until the next discreet fieldtrip.