By the Time You Read This presents a narrative alternate-universe timeline of life at Yale, published in biweekly installments by Maude Lechner (BK ’24, Herald staff) and Dory Johnson (JE ’24).
Yale University has long prided itself on self-sufficiency and individualism. There is no purer manifestation of this outlook than the Yale University Library system’s use of the Yale Classification and Library of Congress Organizational Systems in seething opposition of God, man, and the Dewey Decimal System. Though the entire library system is organized this way, few students know the history or mechanics of their library.
The Old Yale Classification System was adopted by the university in 1890, when it switched from the fixed arrangement system which it had been using since 1742. Described as “mysterious and baffling to readers and staff alike” by Jennette E. Hitchcock in a 1953 edition of The Yale University Gazette, it relies on a subject-based organizational scheme.
In 1970, the University Library began to use the Library of Congress (LC) Classification Scheme, leading to an uptick in library usage and general satisfaction.
In honor of the landmark dual 132nd and 52nd anniversary of these two systems (which were implemented on an unknown date), the writers of this column chose to embark on an investigative journey to find a copy of historian John F. Clarkinmann’s seminal work Oral Histories of the Yale Library System in the Sterling Memorial Library stacks.
We believed that we would find the book somewhere on floor 7M, where the Library of Congress books corresponding to “Auxiliary Sciences of History” and designated with the letter “C” are stored. As we were searching for section C.20, we found not our chosen book, but instead a short, gleeful young man wearing a suit and tie and sitting cross-legged on the floor and staring intently at the contents of a shiny briefcase.
When he noticed us, he furtively closed his briefcase and inquired as to whether we planned to file independently or through an accounting firm.
We replied that no, we were looking for Oral Histories of the Yale Library System.
“I don’t know anything about that,” he replied, “I’m just a guy who does your taxes for free. But I think there’s a guy on the second floor who can help with the oral thing.”
When asked why he was doing people’s taxes in November, the strange little man replied, “it’s never too early to file.”
On his advice, we took the elevator all the way down to the second floor of the stacks. There we found yet another young man standing around in the Spanish folk literature section (PQ6131-6153). He looked at us expectantly.
We began to ask for our book of oral histories. He interrupted: “Oral examinations for L3 Spanish midterm makeups? Why, yes! You’ve come to the right place.”
So it seems that every floor of the Sterling Memorial Library’s Stacks is home to a young man who is willing to provide some service for free:
Floor 7M: This man will do your taxes.
Floor 7: This man will skip raucously through the stacks demanding that the library visitor or staff member “come chase me.”
Floor 6M: This man will share a free sample of homemade fruit wine fermented in the darkness between General History of the Balkan Peninsula: Fall of Constantinople (DR485-555.7) and The War of Candia (DR534.2-534.5).
Floor 6: This man is Doug Santos, brother of Laurie Santos. He is giving out free copies of his tell-all memoir.
Floor 5M: This man will inject you with a guinea worm if you fail to answer his riddle.
Floor 5: This man gives out Rainbow Loom™ bracelets.
Floor 4M: This 18-year-old undergrad is President Tony Thompson (BK ’26), here to offer you mid-semester greetings.
Floor 4: This man has Wii Sports Resort loaded up and is ready to battle you in Wakeboarding.
Floor 3M: This man will teach you how to steal a library book by putting it under your coat.
Floor 3: This man will give you a gentle kiss on the forehead and a whispered word of encouragement.
Floor 2M: This man loves butt stuff.
Floor 2: This friendly young man proctors oral examinations for L3 Spanish midterm makeups.
Floor 1M: This man will remove the guinea worm injected by the man on floor 5M using the manual, months-long process that has proven to be the most effective way of combating this parasitic infection.
Floor 1: This man will reenact the backpack scene from Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, letting you be either Luke or Yoda.
To conclude our investigation, we would like to share a few findings with the Yale community. First, sometimes the Oral Histories of the Yale Library System is the friends you make along the way. Second, the Oral Histories of the Yale Library System is not on floor 5M under Connecticut local history (F91-105), and venturing into that section is precarious, since the man on floor 1M sometimes takes the day off.
And third, by the time you read this, everything might be different.