To the Stacks



I held the small piece of paper in my hand.

RB155 .N27 2005

The “2005” jumped out from the rest of the text.  Clearly a year, but what about the rest?  Stumped, I leaned back in my chair and looked around again, wondering whether someone was watching from afar to see how long it took me to solve the first clue.  I watched the rows of bookcases that filled half of the room, searching for a pair of eyes peering through the books or the slight movement of a figure staying just out of sight.  My surveillance didn’t last long, however, as a flash of inspiration from those bookcases turned my mind back to the clue.  Could it be a call number?

I gathered my things and found the nearest computer dedicated to library database searching.  It was hard to shake the feeling that I might be being watched or monitored somehow as I self-consciously typed in the text from the card.

My hunch was correct.  One result came back, a book called More Than Human by Ramez Naam, located in the new stacks of the engineering library, checked in.  Not the library I was currently in, but still close by.  A short walk in the crisp autumn air, and I was there.

I had never had much reason to explore the stacks of any of the libraries on campus, and mostly stuck to studying in the main areas.  The stacks in the engineering library were in the basement, with low ceilings and yellow fluorescent lights.  A heavy-looking door at the end of the room lead to the old stacks, and I was tempted to go exploring there, deeper into the heart of the building, but decided to stick to my task instead.

The stacks were quiet in a stuffy kind of way, well-insulated with carpeted floors and no windows.  The atmosphere could easily trick you into assuming you were alone, startling you when a person appeared in between the shelves, moving with impossibly quiet footsteps.  The place could be cozy or spooky, depending on your outlook.

The shelf I was looking for was easy to find, and the hunter green book, its dust jacket removed, was waiting there as promised.  I pulled the book from the shelf and began flipping through the pages.  Nothing. I looked around the area for the discreet black envelope tucked away somewhere on the shelf, but again found nothing.

I returned to the book, this time searching more carefully.  Finally, I found a small piece of notebook paper slipped between the pages, hardly substantial enough to call attention to itself.

But it was unusual.  The paper was covered, front to back, in number sequences, hand-written in pencil in a small, deliberate print.

… 113-8-29  80-19-2  198-3-35 …

There had to have been at least a hundred sequences in total.  My head spun just looking at them, and I wondered if my mysterious journey might end before it had really begun.  I put the book back on the shelf, put the note in my back pocket, and headed for the dining hall with the intention of studying the strange numbers over lunch.


To be continued