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The Science Library
by m. pinchuk

Listen to a podcast of m. pinchuk's 'The Science Library.'

You can get to the Science Library by different routes.

But you must follow the directions carefully because the most direct way is often closed.


1. Walk confidently past other buildings. You may pass all or none of the following: Admissions, Careers, Cryptozoology and Zoonoses, Fine Arts, Information Technology, Liberal Arts, Mathematics, Psychoceramics.
Note: On a bad day, it can be difficult just to find the right building. (If you take a wrong turn, you must double back along curving paths that wind their way between concrete and glass buildings set into hillsides.)
Note: Don't worry even as the sun drops lower and jagged shadows splay across paths. Don't worry when the color of the glossy leaves of the magnolia (not yet in bloom) deepens and you notice fewer people around.
2. Once you arrive at the Science Building, walk to the entrance on the south side, to try the direct route first.
Note: The doors may be padlocked shut.
Note: If they are locked there will not be an explanation.
3. If the south entrance is unobtainable, use the main entrance on the east side.
Note: A row of frosted glass doors seems to offer a choice, but it doesn't matter which one you push open – all lead to the foyer where there are three shallow steps carved from yellowed limestone.
Note: Cross-sections of fossils may sometimes be glimpsed embedded in the stone.
4. Choose a corridor to follow: left, right or straight ahead.

5. Walk past offices.
Note: Do not forget there is more than one way to get to the Science Library.

Option: One path takes you to a mezzanine overlooking the main entrance. From there you may glance through windows and see pine trees huddled close to the building and small birds (are they sparrows?) hopping from tree to ground and back again.

Note: The path that leads along the mezzanine sometimes seems to go on forever but you will reach the end.
6. At the terminus of the corridor, stairs lead down to the left or right.
Note: You may pause on the landing a moment before deciding which way to proceed.
Note: Once you have come this far, do not turn back.
7. Follow the stairs to another landing.
Option: Walk through a door or continue downstairs.

Note: Even though you have been to the Science Library before, nothing you have passed will look overly familiar except in the way that all academia is built of scuffed, speckled linoleum, grubby paint and well-worn arguments.
8. Continue your journey through corridors, perhaps using a strategy.
Option: One favored strategy is to turn always right or always left upon reaching a junction. If you choose to turn always right but reach a junction where this is impossible, then you must take the path furthest to the right even if this means carrying straight on. If you choose to turn always left but reach a junction where this is impossible, then you must take the path furthest to the left, etc.

Note: You may have learned about this strategy when you and a friend visited a maze at one of those old mansions (now open to the public) that remind people of ways of life they wish they could have lived. There, the walk of the maze was bounded by dense hedges of blue–green yew. They soared over your head, knitted tightly together. You had the feeling they were like a parent's hands, forcing you to look straight ahead, shielding you from seeing things you shouldn't. You weren't sure what to do, how to get through. You heard children crying. It was only once you had made it to the disappointingly small center and then found your way out again — using the strategy — that you realized there was a raised platform near the entrance. Had you climbed that before you'd gone in, the whole route would have been mapped out for you.

Note: There are a few ways to get to the Science Library, but the easiest way is often closed.
9. Continue moving forward until you reach a spiral staircase.
Note: You may occasionally follow a path down a windowless hallway only to arrive at a dead end or a locked door, which is the same as a dead end in this case.

Note: You may come upon a door and open it to find that it leads to the outside world, a fire escape perhaps, and now a cloudless sunny day has materialized when previously the sky had been overcast and quite gloomy.
10. Descend the spiral staircase.
Note: It is metal, painted many coats of dull grey. The paint is sticky and will give slightly under your touch, making it feel as if you are leaving permanent fingerprints.
11. You are now in the Science Library.

Things to notice
•On each floor several desks are pushed close together by the staircase. Most of the desks seem to have been claimed: people have left notebooks on them or jackets draped over the backs of chairs.

•The stairs offer a vantage point. The stacks – rows and rows of books arranged in straight lines and right angles – will tower over you and make it impossible to see from one side of the room to the other once you exit the staircase.

•On the ground floor, which is sunk into a low hill, three walls are made of reflective glass and there is no entrance from the outside. At certain times of day, when the sunlight is angled correctly, you may be able to see trees clustered on the slope of the hill. The leaves may be turning color — green mottled with yellow, or tawny with red-orange veins like the blush on blood oranges. Or the leaves may already have fallen.

•The fourth wall of the ground floor has no windows at all, just oversized books shelved from floor to ceiling, books so old, so well used, that the lettering has faded from their spines. You may wonder whether any of them are ever taken off the shelves, and then you may conclude that even without their names a specialist could identify them from their location in the library, their position on the shelves.

•The fourth wall smells pervasively of mildew, and no amount of cleaning or air freshener gets rid of the odor.

•On the upper floors, you may be surprised to find so many people. And these people take books off shelves, read the books, scour them for insight. (Have you ever been in the library when it was empty?)

Points to consider
•When you first started going to the Science Library you looked closely at almost every book on a shelf, read each title carefully, tried to find the sections of the library that would interest you.

•You never got to grips with the cataloguing system. You often found that when you went back and worked your way through a different aisle, or a different floor, that you'd seen some of the same books on your last visit.

•After you had been going fairly regularly you stopped reading the titles of the books and instead wandered through the stacks looking at the colors of their spines and the patterns the colors made — a wide band of blue next to a few splodges of red, an exclamation of purple, a wave of yellows. On and on down an infinite number of rows, the colors arranged themselves in relationships that were mysterious to you.

•Was it shortly after you stopped reading the titles that your visits to the Science Library became less frequent?
Addendum –
On what you later decided had been your final visit, you spent hours in the library, much longer than usual, as if you wanted to be certain that everything was in its place, as if some part of you knew you wouldn't be coming back.

You wandered the rows of books, working your way up from the ground floor. Very methodical you were, as if testing yourself, trying to discover whether you too could be tempted to pull a book off a shelf. You even convinced yourself to visit the top floor – the fifth – which you didn't remember going to previously. On the fifth floor you found that the ceiling was slightly lower. Some of the lights weren't working. The windows were small and set high up on the walls. A brown stain crept away from the window in the northeast corner.

You think of the Science Library once in a while, but less frequently than you used to. On good days you can imagine what it would be like to forget about it altogether. And sometimes you believe that might happen.




Keywords: constraint; mapping; strategy

See: cataloguing; collecting

See also: territory (better left unexplored)




About the author:
m. pinchuk has lived in Turkey, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States. One of her stories was included in an anthology in the United Kingdom (
New Writing 14, Granta), and one is forthcoming in an anthology to be published in China later in 2009. "The Science Library" is from Architecture, a collection of short pieces about places both real and imagined. See also: mpinchuk.com



© 2011 Word Riot

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