The Quiet of the Library Punctuated By Artillery


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There were some History Channel programs playing on a TV in the atrium and World War I music on a boom box in the corner, but it was a library, so the volumes were not very high. Even the shells being exploded for the History Channel didn’t make too much sound.

The Busse Library held it’s open house for the Mount Mercy World War I series Wednesday night. It was an interesting event, partly because there really wasn’t any “presentation,” just a chance to wander the library exhibits, read, reflect, eat cookies and chat.

The chatting was one of the main attractions. Some Religious Studies professor did some good, because you could tell those students because they were the ones staring hard at displays and dutifully taking notes.

One young lady had a system to circumvent the notes, I think. She was sitting at a nearby library table with her laptop. You’d see her go to the display, look at it for a while, and then return to the laptop. I assume some paper on the event was being crafted, and she was cutting out the middle step of taking written notes by writing her paper directly in the library.

I had a few too many cookies, which I know will shock, shock the blogosphere. But besides me, the cookie consumption rate meant that there must have been a fairly decent crowd. Any student in the library, of course, could wander by and grab a sweet, but it seemed like most of the table traffic in the atrium was from this World War I set of viewers, and most of the cookies were taken. I am not sure of numbers—most events in the series have attracted between 50 and 80 people. I think this event may have been more lightly attended, but I would roughly guess that there were at least between 30 and 40 people. Maybe there were more—they were quiet, the moved around a lot and it was a come-and-go event.

The Wednesday night crowd, too, skewed a bit more to students then some previous events. Last chances for assignments or extra credit, I bet. The series overall has had an interesting mix of community residents, some of them elderly, and students. I wish we had seen more students and many more MMU faculty attending events, but this series has still been popular.

And those students taking notes. Seeing that did a professor’s mood some good.

I had several engaging conversations at the open house. An elderly gentleman had family ties to World War I, stories he recalled from a great uncle, for instance. He wore an Army hat, and I bet he was a veteran of either Korea or World War II, but I didn’t ask. Anyway, he was fascinated by the displays and in a mood to share his family’s World War I lore.

There was also a student who had transferred to MMU from Iowa State, and had been a history major at ISU. I gathered he is studying education, but what kind, I am not sure. He was pretty enthusiastic and holding court with several other MMU students.

Again, it was nice to see such interest in the World War I series. Most people were fairly quiet as they walked through the library, slowly absorbing the many posters and displays there.

????????????It wasn’t somber, but it was a quiet event. After all, it was in a library. And the Great War was an event in history that, even 100 years later, seems to demand a certain rumination—some quiet thinking. And a response: Oh Dear God—what have we done? And how do we avoid doing it again?

Questions, perhaps, that were not posed enough in the ensuing century. And questions that seem still relevant today.

If you’ve missed the series so far, there are two events left, both evening events in the Chapel of Mercy adjacent to the library. On Nov. 6, the chair of our Nursing Program, Dr. Mary Tarbox, will give us a lesson about the great flu pandemic of 1918-1919. As you probably know, the death toll from that flu makes Ebola seem like a pretty minor event. And the series concludes, on a symbolically important date, on Nov. 11 with a World War I reflection in music and reading. Drama students will perform, the choir will sing, the band will play and hand bells will ring. I am not unbiased, but I think the hand bell rendition of Melita, the Navy Hymn, will be hauntingly beautiful and also powerfully sobering.

Which just seems right, I think.

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