Referencing the ridiculous

Ben Wolford

University Library’s 1.25-million collection ranges from pots to pot to potatoes

“Sex Pots: Eroticism in Ceramics” is one of many odd books students can find on the shelves of the library. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY CAITLIN PRARAT | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

On a shelf on the sixth floor of the Kent State University Library lies a text of nearly cinder block proportions. No, it’s not a treatise on the history of mankind.

It’s a book about silverware from churches.

E. Alfred Jones’ “The Old Silver of American Churches” is one member of the Kent State University Libraries and Media Services diverse and sometimes unusual collection.

Reference center manager Tom Warren said that when the library first began gathering its collection, it bought a lot of old books just to establish a presence as a research facility. Jones’ anthology of forks and knives may have been a product of that original book binge.

Now, Warren said, “we try not to buy something just to buy it.”

That doesn’t entirely explain Jesse Sheidlower’s pseudo-dictionary “The F Word.” Somehow it made its way to the reference shelf in support of aspiring lexicographers curious to know definitions for words like “mofo.”

Similarly, students can discover “main man” is “a person’s best male friend” from “The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang,” and that “arsenal” has many meanings, one being “a quantity of narcotics concealed in the rectum, usually in a metal capsule,” according to “Narcotics Lingo and Lore.”

“We have a fund that is assigned to us each year,” Warren said, describing how a book becomes a part of the roughly 1.25 million-volume collection.

With that fund, Warren said, about a dozen librarians with subject specialties such as education or justice studies decide which items to purchase.

At some point after 1968 when it was published, someone thought it would be worthwhile to buy an edition of “Finger-Ring Lore” by William Jones. Circulation Desk records indicate it’s never been checked out.

On the other hand, Paul Mathieu’s “Sex Pots: Eroticism in Ceramics” has been checked out seven times.

The reference section boasts thick volumes of Colombo’s “Canadian Quotations” and Michael D.C. Drout’s “J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia” for those eager for some Nova Scotian wit or curious about the geography of the Shire.

On the 12th floor, above and perhaps beyond the library’s regular collection, is the Department of Special Collections and Archives. This space, said special collections librarian Craig Simpson, is home to the nation’s largest May 4 archive, original Salvador Dali wood prints and 200 cubic feet of materials relating to the animated fictional elephant Babar.

“It may be the only one,” joked Simpson.

Rarities are common among the 12 floors of bookshelves. The library staff tries to be prepared.

“We’ve got a criminal justice studies program on campus,” Warren said, as an example. “So we get the books people would use (for that major).”

And even if no one does use some of them, the library has a copy of J.G. Hawkes’ “The Potato: Evolution, Biodiversity and Genetic Resources” just in case.

Contact features reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].