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Desperate doodlers

Kimberley Burkart | Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I have always thought the Hesburgh Library a great place to do homework, but my studies this weekend were a struggle.

The problem was the desks on the twelfth floor. For all readers who have never ventured to the library’s upper levels, the desks there are not so much desks as striking wooden giants nestled at intervals throughout the stacks. All are crafted, not just made, of wood. All are pleasingly oversized and bordered on three sides by short wooden walls.

No view of good-looking premeds, no electric outlet for one’s laptop, nothing. Complete sensory deprivation. In theory, these desks give college students the perfect environment to study, sleep, drool, whatever.

But alas, the hypnotic powers of these desks have been rendered ineffective by the thick layer of graffiti that coats each one.

The graffiti itself is wonderful in its diversity. Some is contemplative (“What is love?”) and some is heart-rending (“Mike – don’t let me go yet. I’m waiting for you.”) Some is ironic (“I hate all you people who write on desks!”) and some is delightfully obsolete (“I luv BRITNEY Spears.”) From the compulsive (an elaborate pen-on-wood etching of the Dome) to the politically incorrect (“Theology is Gay”) to the timeless (“I hate physics!!!”) to the profound (“If 4 out of 5 people suffer from diarrhea, does the 5th enjoy it?”), the desks in the Hesburgh Library are records of thoughts that occur to most sensory-deprived minds in passing but does not usually end up carved in wood.

I’ve heard it suggested that the graffiti system is for many students a sort of confession. Sounds like a reach, but actually the idea is compelling. Since Vatican II, countless Catholics have thrown Reconciliation by the wayside and yet retain that confessional mentality peculiar to the Church. With a little imagination, an anguished and deeply bored mind could easily turn the desks into confessionals. The readers of the graffiti are then transformed into priests, hearing confessions and absolving sins.

Then again, consider the schmuck who professed his or her “luv” for Britney Spears on a library desk near the BX 1620. Ms. Reconciliation? Maybe not.

Perhaps, then, the graffiti is an ongoing dialogue – a way for students to reach out to the rest of the community. There are all kinds of studies floating around nowadays proving that advancements in technology isolate people from one another to the point that they are uncomfortable relating to other human beings in person. They are forced seek new ways to connect with others at an emotional level. For example, ten years ago, people wouldn’t dream of letting anyone read their personal journals. Now they post them online. Could desk graffiti yet be another way of expressing oneself without having actual human contact? Facebook for the unplugged?

I don’t know. What I do know is that the library is occupied, on any given afternoon, by hundreds of intellectually inclined individuals, all brimming with youthful vigor and a professed thirst to make a mark on the world. All have been told that studying in the library will help them do just that.

Then they lose focus and make their marks on the library instead.

Maybe I’m being sanctimonious. After all, right now, I am making my mark on the world in a most comfortable manner. In a few days this paper will be tucked into the library’s microfilm archives, in no danger of anyone scratching it out or writing over it.

Kimberley Burkart is a sophomore English major at Saint Mary’s College. She can be contacted at kburka01@saintmarys.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.