The secret keeper of the library

| Staff Columnist

There are moments in life when one is moved. It doesn’t have to be a monumental or life-changing experience to have a profound impact. In fact, what inspired me to write this piece this week was something incredibly routine, something I’d seen multiple times before.

A week ago or so, I was sitting on the third floor of the library, burning the proverbial midnight oil. I’m not exactly sure what academic pursuit brought me to Olin that night; perhaps its relative insignificance is what allowed me to process the world around me. Regardless, at roughly midnight, an Aramark employee strolled through the aisles of the cubicles on the third floor, picking up the mass of coffee cups and used napkins that had amassed over the course of the day. In other words, she was dealing with our disgusting trash.

This happens every day, I assume. I do not know this woman’s name, nor had I ever thought about her prior to that night, despite the fact that I’d seen her do this job many times before. Her job is one that few people see, and one that nearly no one—including me—probably has given much thought to. In my mind that night, I dubbed her the secret keeper of the library.

Every day, students at this school walk into spotless facilities without really knowing how they came to be that way. People like the library keeper are the invisible machines that allow this school to run the way it does. They are a group of people that I feel compelled to publicly acknowledge, and to whom I wish to extend an enormous amount of gratitude and appreciation.

I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way, but as I watched the library keeper do her job that night on the third floor, I was overcome with loneliness. This hard-working woman works a graveyard shift, picking up trash from the floors of a University library, alone, in silence, every day. There must be hundreds of employees at this school who perform similarly important jobs without so much as blip on the radar.

Who maintains the grass on the fields or the flowers in front of Graham Chapel? Who is behind the rotating dish machine in the DUC? Who keeps the entire Wash. U. wireless network up and running? There are people with whom we, as students, interact with on a day-to-day basis and even develop personal relationships with. These are people whom we experience as part of the University’s ecosystem, and they also include the chefs at Holmes Lounge or Bear’s Den (R.I.P.) or our RCDs.

What affected me that night in the library was how important those people—with whom we hardly interact—are to the daily lives of the student populace, and inversely, how little anyone realizes it. Next time you are sitting in the library, or even using a bathroom on campus, think about how it looks as clean as it does. And if you happen to see one of these invisible machines in action, as you may on a late night at an Olin cubicle, say thank you. I bet it would be appreciated more than we can even comprehend.

  • Ddorothy Waln Bloore

    Are there no trash bins? Are there no signs suggesting one should take one’s litter away? I haven’t been a student at WU since 1952, and i don’t recall if we left our trash sitting on tables and floors. Possibly it was common then as we were a privileged lot. On the other hand our mothers would not have approved. Today’s hopefully greener world should not put up with such carelessness.

  • Margaret Low Smith

    This piece is beautiful. Poignant, profound and elegantly told. It brought tears to my eyes. An important reminder to all of us.

    Margaret Low Smith

  • I agree with the author. I hope nobody takes this article the wrong way. To me, this did not come across as patronizing and condescending. I think the tone was just right, respectful and appreciative. I hope to see more articles like this one, about the workers on our campus, who are too often taken for granted.

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    per veritatem vis