The following story originally appeared in the Uni High librarian’s blog, posted by librarian Frances Jacobson Harris. That blog is no longer online, but at my request Ms. Harris found a copy of the post and kindly forwarded it to me.
The events it describes occurred in 1972, when I was a senior at Uni. Names have not been changed; there is no longer a need to protect the guilty.
A prank comes full circle
by Frances Jacobson Harris
May 23, 2011
Last week, I blogged about the heavy dose of snark we discovered in some library annual reports of years gone by. Our favorite entry by far was the following:
“University High School students do not present discipline problems in the library in the same manner as one expects from other schools’ students. Our students are more devious. On February 29, 1972, the librarian found on our shelves a book which did not belong in the school collection and yet it appeared to be fully processed. That is, the book had the proper book plate, circulation card and pocket, date due, the correct stamps and spine marking, although the call number was a little strange. Further investigation indicated that there were also “catalog cards,” properly filed in the card catalog. Over a two week period we found about twenty books in the stacks which were not proper additions to the collection, but which on first glance appeared to belong there. We have since discovered that one of the locks to an unused door to the library can be easily picked and apparently a student(s) spent a considerable amount of time providing us with these donations. Because the cataloguing was not very professional I am not yet sure whether we have all the “catalog” cards removed from the main catalog or not. Although we suspected several students were playing this game nothing could be proven; the students involved were merely warned that if such activity continued they would be suspect and liable for suspension.”
I also speculated that this deed must have been the handiwork of the same class that produced the Wylde Q. Chicken Spontaneous Generation Award for Coloring Outside the Lines. As luck would have it, our awards assembly was also held last week and I had a chance to personally question a couple members of that illustrious class. The thing is, we were really curious about the nature of the books that were “donated.” Alum Scott Wyatt protested his innocence, but promised to see if he could find more. And, boy, did he come through. Several emails later, here’s more-or-less the complete story.
The perpetrators of this devious prank kindly allowed me to reveal their names after I assured them that the statute of limitations had expired. David Woolley, Kim Mast, and Peter Wolff (with the help of a few willing accomplices at critical points) had somehow obtained a master key to the school. Over some period of time, getting bolder with their selections as they went along, they added several volumes to the library’s collection, all with catalog call numbers, official Uni High Library bookplates, checkout pockets and cards, and catalog cards. They didn’t remember all the titles, which ranged from the sort of title I can’t post in a G-rated blog (one having to do with housewives, another with, well, never mind) to an old boy scout manual, the first (free) volume of a grocery store encyclopedia (you kids don’t remember that), the Bride’s Coloring Book, and the My Three Sons Coloring Book.
Wanting their prank to be appreciated, the group “convinced” a younger accomplice to check out one of the books, which led to the discovery of more of the books. At some point soon after, the assistant principal was called in to the library and left with an armload, much to the consternation of two of the perps who could see this drama play out from the classroom across the hall. They later journeyed back to the library, tossing the as-yet undiscovered (and racier) tomes out the window to an accomplice below.
David was the only unfortunate soul to be called into the assistant principal’s office, but he admitted nothing. He and his accomplices then pulled the cards out of the catalog before the raunchiest stuff could be discovered. The cleanup operation had to be just as surreptitious as the original plant.
I have to say that I’m a little sad such a prank probably wouldn’t happen in today’s world. Those online catalogs and humongous shared databases are too full of hard-to-replicate MARC records, MFHDs, and other sorts of arcane library thingies. Still, I’m going to keep my eyes on the 800s.
Postscript (5/24): My friend Sharon alerted me to a very high-concept version of this prank currently taking place at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library Center, “the largest municipal, public, circulating library in the country.” The Library Project (Temporary Services) is adding 100 new books and artists’ projects into the library holdings through a “donation.” The library has not been told about the gifts they are going to receive. Definitely worth checking out – these folks have thought through every detail.