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Voyage Across Broadway, or How I Visited Burke Library and Lived to Tell the Tale

With Butler filled to the brim with exam-tide holiday cheer (not to mention unshowered overachievers) you may be seeking an alternative study spot, any study spot, whether on campus…or slightly, vaguely off. With that in mind Bwog follows correspondent Zack Hoopes inside the ghoulish, gothic depths of Burke Library at the Union Theological Seminary…

Monday, 9:38 pm

I arrive at 121st and Broadway, the entrance to UTS. I don’t know where I’m going, and an awkward stare-down with the security guard ensues. He tells me (with a gesture over his shoulder) that the library is “over there.” I walk over there. A sign says ‘Burke Library’ with an arrow pointing down a very, very, long hallway. The floor is made of some sort of brown tile/paneling/dried animal feces, with the greasy shine and unevenness of something that has been rubbed way too much over a very long time. This appearance is not exclusive to the floor. The ambiance of this building can only be described as that which gives you ‘the willies.’ It’s a labyrinth in here, and not a fun one. I expect to run into David Bowie.

Unlike Butler, there is no guard to tell me I can’t bring my sandwich into the building so they can sell me a sandwich inside. As I walk through the security scanners, the alarm goes off. The guy at the desk says “It’s probably just broken. The only time it should go off is if you actually had a book from here.” Apparently circulation at Burke is low. I ask for the pamphlet I’ve requested from the desk guy. He appears to be a model, upstanding hipster. One of those guys whose personal convictions you’re always afraid you’ll offend with a crass comment about God or saving the whales or some shit like that.

His coworker tells him that my pamphlet is not in the library proper; it’s in the “brown tower.” I learn that this is not, in fact, a figure of speech, but an actual tower that is brown and houses lots of really old documents. The desk guy then produces the “keys to the tower”. He actually uses this term. The key is medieval looking, which offsets the fact that it is attached to a large block of wood of the kind you get when you use a gas station bathroom in Jersey. I sit pensively at a computer terminal while hipster desk guy goes into the tower. He comes out quickly. It’s messy in there, and his shift ends in 15 minutes. Can I come back tomorrow?

Tuesday, 11:32 am

I return. An elderly Japanese lady has replaced hipster desk guy, or else desk guy has the ability to shape-shift. I wouldn’t put it past him. I am told to go to the reference librarian on the third floor.

The reference guy is, essentially, a troll. He features are flat, but his body is lumpy, and he walks with the uneven gait of a penguin and the awkward lurching of a chicken. Said chenguin, perched behind a desk which could hide a semi, tells me that it’s a bit late in the day for him to go get my pamphlet. I haven’t even eaten lunch yet, for god’s sake. When do trolls go to sleep, anyway, noon? I’m told to come back tomorrow at 11 am.

Wednesday, 12:27 pm

I woke up late. Upon entering, the chenguin troll seems annoyed. Apparently, I was the only thing keeping him from retiring into his cave. He hands me the pamphlet – it’s an actual 1947 copy of the memoirs I was looking for, somewhat yellowed but in decent shape. I will spend the next 40 minutes trying not to sneeze. The chenguin leads me into the small study lair adjacent to his desk. I sense that he recently cleared out the bones of devoured victims and/or his treasure horde from the room. He says I can make photocopies if I don’t bend the spine too much. I photocopy the entire book and return it to him. He responds with a muddled grunt, which is either “thank you” or “I shall eat your soul”. I’m not pushing my bet, so I exit quickly with “have a nice day”. Or eternity. However long chenguin trolls live.

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  • kazzy says:

    @kazzy this is fantastic. so hilarious.

    medieval does not equal creepy. it equates awesome.

  • Chas Carey says:

    @Chas Carey This’s awesome. Nice work – I think everyone secretly hopes to run into David Bowie in the library, one day.

    Also, “He responds with a muddled grunt, which is either ‘thank you’ or ‘I shall eat your soul.'” Priceless.

  • Don't worry... says:

    @Don't worry... The article isn’t intended to be offensive – of course Burke library employees aren’t really like that. This is a humor piece, not journalism that is intended to accuse or defame people. The reference librarian is named Seth Kasten, and he’s a really nice guy. Although he is short and stout in stature, he does not look like a troll, penguin, or chicken – the character is exaggerated for the sake of the creepy, medieval nature of Burke library.

  • Very uncool . . . says:

    @Very uncool . . . . . . to publicly humiliate an identifiable member of the Columbia community by calling him a troll (or even a chenguin). Saying “He [sic] features are flat, but his body is lumpy, and he walks with the uneven gait of a penguin and the awkward lurching of a chicken” is also grossly insensitive.

  • Fact-Checker says:

    @Fact-Checker Also for the record, Columbia owns the Burke Library’s collections, employs its staff and leases its building from UTS. The library may be at UTS, but it is *of* Columbia.

  • very says:

    @very well writ!!! to speak the truth, all of columbia is like this, not just its theological outskirts: it just takes the right kind of eye.

  • adoring fan of bwog says:

    @adoring fan of bwog I couldn’t stop laughing. so great.

  • okay... says:

    @okay... so going to TC is the new cool now?

    1. for the record... says:

      @for the record... TC and UTS are separate institutions.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous ha. chenguin. zack, you’re funny.

  • "said chenguin" says:

    @"said chenguin" interesting and comical!

    way to go bwog

    1. gp2115 says:

      @gp2115 Brilliant.

      I believe this is the same creature that makes an appearance as the villain in “Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers.”

  • well... says:

    @well... cheers for the writing
    jeers for the cheesy photoshopped graphic

    1. actually says:

      @actually the graphic seems to be from the UTS admissions website:

      and it does fit with the sort of “haunted house” theme

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