Oberlin Blogs

Explorations in Terrell Main Library

January 24, 2022

Lucas Ritchie-Shatz ’25

One fun fact about me is that I love libraries. Ever since I was little, I’ve been in love with the feeling of walking through shelf after shelf, seeing the personalities of each book and their histories. When I was in high school in New York City, I would often head to the big main library in Brooklyn, famous for its gorgeous art-deco architecture, picking out a few books to read for a quiet afternoon. On other days, I would go up to the performing arts library near Lincoln Center and go into the special room where they let you watch recorded performances for any stage show that was on Broadway from the 1970s onward.

Naturally, coming to Oberlin I was immediately excited to have access to the libraries here, which are generally far more expansive than the public libraries I was used to at home. Though I’ve been to every library on campus so far apart from the Art Library, I haven’t had the chance to fully explore any of them apart from the main Terrell Library, though Terrell itself is big enough to keep you exploring for days. Students often go to Mudd, as the main library is called colloquially, to do work or find materials for research. But if you go up the stairs from the main floor, which contains Azzie’s cafe as well as many booths and private rooms for study, you can start to see the breadth of the library’s collections.

On the few slow days I’ve had in Oberlin with no classes or work due, I’ve wandered around the second floor, where much of the collection is stored, choosing a few books to sit down with for a while. Yesterday was my last day of finals, so I decided to settle down and read Bone, the graphic novel series by Jeff Smith. The books had always been favorites of my friends growing up, but because of their popularity they were always checked out at my school’s library. Oberlin has the full collected volume of Bone, a 1300 page monster of a book, and I figured now was as good a time as any to see what I had been missing out on.

Asides from reading Bone, I also took a look at some of the areas on the second floor that intrigued me, but I had ignored until now, such as the super oversize books. Flipping through a few at random, I was delighted to find a book of WWII Soviet propaganda posters, a few books of artifacts, and one book printed in the 19th century about the history of Ohio. Right next to the oversize books are the microforms, which, for the uninformed, are generally small pieces of film with documents reproduced on them at a miniature scale. These can be read with a machine called a microfiche that acts as a magnifying glass. One microform can contain a year’s worth of newspapers, making them useful for keeping records of large volumes of information. I’ve long been fascinated by microforms, primarily from ghost stories on TV and in movies where the characters find a long-forgotten mysterious death hidden within a newspaper from decades ago. Though thus far I haven’t gotten a chance to use one, I’m still on the lookout for an opportunity to be able to in my research. 

Overall, I just feel so stunned and lucky to be able to have access to incredible archival materials with no barrier to entry. For example, while browsing I found a gorgeous German book bound with a marbled cover dating back to the 1870s, which I wish I could tell you more about, but unfortunately my German skills are nonexistent. Not to mention that Oberlin also possesses archives of many journals and magazines, such as the satirical British magazine “The Punch”, which has fabulous illustrations if you care to flip through them. It’s amazing to know that all these resources are at my disposal, should I need them, and even if I don’t, I will always find it magical to look through books from generations past. Perhaps one of my favorite things about looking through books in the library is finding little notes or papers that people have forgotten to take out, little reminders that these books have had lives before me. Even just these little things, like plane ticket stubs or a conference invitation, make the past feel personal. In an internet age where time seems to move a mile a minute, the library is a great place to stop and take a second to appreciate how alive history can be.