In the north of campus sits the cavernous Firestone Library: six floors stuffed with books in an impressively iceberg-ish set up. What appears to be a normal building on the surface actually extends deep in all directions underground. I would say it has something of a villains’ lair about it, as nearly all Gothic buildings with more than two basement floors do, but I can’t: It really is too beautiful for that.
Most people don’t understand why I enjoy—actually look forward to—hunting for books in Firestone Library. To those people I say: fair enough. I admit it, I sound very strange when I talk about this particular hobby of mine. You begin with a paper topic in mind, let’s say West Asiatic elements of early Greek poetry. You get some book references from your adviser, such as “The East Face of Helicon” by M.L. West, you look it up on the catalogue for its Princeton call number—some long string of letters and numbers occasionally interspersed with periods and possibly other non-alphanumeric keys—and thus far I concede it’s all very clear cut. Simple.
But this is when the exciting part happens. You see, there’s no way to know where a book is going to be located in Firestone based on its call number. Well, of course there must be, but I’ve never met anyone who understood the system. To locate your book, you can search on the library’s online database, and provided right there on the book’s catalogue entry is an icon called “Where to Find It.” A map pops up, an orange dot appears that marks the book’s location and a thin stripe trail leads from the library’s entrance to the book's location.
Time to go on an adventure. You’re bound to be more or less alone as you wander through the 70 miles worth of shelves! If you’ve left the reading rooms and study spaces behind, then you’ve left civilization behind. It’s just you and the more than 7 million books that make up Firestone.
I always like to linger. It doesn’t matter what section I’m in—whether sociology, poetry, religion or foreign languages. Sometimes it’s for the bizarre titles—someone wrote a book on that?—and sometimes it’s for the book covers. I actually have a track record of sending pictures of great book covers to my friends. Looking back on all the times I’ve gone to Firestone, I’m not sure there’s ever been a time when I didn’t leave with at least two or three more books than I intended to pick up. There are times when I feel like reading about familiar protagonists like Indiana Jones, Marco Polo or Odysseus; However, oftentimes I wandering around, searching for some rare, hidden artifact, surrounded by authors I’ve never heard of and topics I know nothing about. Who wouldn’t want to turn everyday tasks into adventures? When searching for a book in Firestone, it’s just too easy.