Carrel scribblings elicit mixed nostalgia

It’s one of those Sunday afternoons when I promise myself I will be productive if I confine myself to a monkey carrel in the dreary basement of Sawyer – but despite my good intentions, all too often I find myself drifting into reading the graffiti lining the carrel walls. “God is a sock,” declares one pink marker scrawl. An arrow connects another student’s scribbled response: “Your mom is a sock.”
As many students have before me, I have discovered the blessing and the curse of the monkey carrels’ most interesting feature: generations’ worth of scribbles. But I may be one of the last generations to discover these random musings and epithets. With the construction of a new Sawyer, updated, shiny desks similar to those in Schow may replace these carrels. Will any students mourn their loss?
Many students find the graffiti in the monkey carrels to be a welcome distraction. Eliza Elliotte ’12, who works at the front desk in Sawyer, says that many of her friends “tell me amusing things they read down there.” Alex Long ’12 and Lindsay Olsen ’12 both admitted to being “guilty of reading them.” Adrian Castro ’14 defended the graffiti in one respect: “It’s better than spending hours on Facebook,” he said.
One of the more interesting musings I found was the question, “What class are you doing work for right now?” There were a total of 23 responses in various colors and handwritings.  Answers ranged from “anthropology” to “Chinese” to “art” to “Everything!” – the last one probably being the most realistic.
Other students take issue with the graffiti. “I appreciate the inspirational and funny stuff, but the overall sense I get is the unbelievable immaturity. I find a lot of it disgusting,” Lucy Rollins ’12 said. “[It’s] obnoxious when you’re trying to focus.” Gabor Gurbacs ’14 agreed. “It’s disgusting,” he said. Abby Conyers ’12 seconds the sentiment: “This library is grody –  I’m excited for it to be clean,” she said.
The librarians also seem ready for the change. “All of us in the libraries are very excited about the new library,” said David Pilachowski, College librarian for over 12 years. “It will provide much better space for users to read, study, collaborate, research and relax.” Min Joo Lee ’14 added, “It will be good to have new carrels, and people will eventually write on those too.”
Many of the scribbles you might find do contain obscenities, but some are rather mundane, such as, “Billy was here.” Others, however, are rather insightful. In one dark corner I found the thought-provoking phrase: “She lost it. He got some. Hear that difference?” In another carrel I discovered a series of texts written in a beautiful Arabic script, which a friend translated as poems about “the library as a haunted room.”
Many of the students I questioned felt that there could be a value in documenting some of the writing. “Pictures might be cool,” Long said, a sentiment that several students agreed with.
But Yiqin Jiang ’13 was unsure how she felt about the potential of preserving the graffiti. “Do they have College historical value? I’m not sure, but maybe someone could put pictures up on WSO,” she said. Castro added, “Picture displays in the new library might be nice.”
Students generally felt this type of graffiti is unique to our current Sawyer and could never truly be transplanted into the new library. Long and Olsen felt that it was part of the “Sawyer lore.”
“Grossness [is] kind of a Sawyer thing,” said Olsen.
Pilachowski agreed: “I am not sure how much the graffiti would contribute to the picture of student life or how practical it would be to try to capture it,” he said. “Our College Archives [have] wonderful materials tracking many aspects of students’ experiences at Williams over the years. Besides the wide array of student academic, news, literary and science publications, we have student diaries, especially from years past.”
Campus community members suggested alternative ways to leave messages in carrels or the new library: Rollins advised “a redirection of these messages to a different place.” Gurbacs agreed, suggesting “public places where people could satisfy their artistic needs, maybe a little book that is attached to each carrel.” Rollins liked the idea of this kind of “bored book,” a way for students to write each other messages and pass the time without vandalizing.
Nevertheless, with the Stetson-Sawyer construction project still impending, we have yet to find out whether the graffiti in the monkey carrels will live on or sink into the realm of Williams legend.

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