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Library proves point by "going downhill" the fastest

Nov. 16, 2005

KALAMAZOO--Dwight B. Waldo Library is not your father's college library, but boy does it have resources.

That's the message staffers in Western Michigan University's library are sharing these days, and they're ready to test their moxie against any comers. In fact, they took on WMU's student engineers and a raft of fraternities last month in the Soapbox Derby, a 30-year homecoming weekend tradition.

What's more, they won.

"We figured we'd be no match for engineering students, who often dominate the winner's circle," says Brad Dennis, assistant professor and education librarian. "We did have some practical expertise in spouses, friends and students--and an entire arsenal of library resources at our command."

Waldo Library may house medieval manuscripts, a world-class poetry collection and loads of academic journals, but students also will encounter staffers with knowledge of plastics manipulation and death-ray gun designs from the science fiction collections.

Armed with that kind of knowledge, entering the derby was viewed as a fun event to bring staff, faculty, administration and students together quickly. But it has taken on a life of its own since the library's Plexiglas racer placed second in its 2003 debut and came in third last year.

Dean of Libraries Joseph Reish transported the car to the American Library Association annual conference in Chicago this year to show it off and illustrate how the car was helping to break down stereotypes of "stuffy librarians and dusty old books."

The 2005 race entry sports a Hawaiian design in keeping with the homecoming theme "Around the World in Seven Days." Librarians say they hope their win draws attention on campus to the library's most recent addition--a Hawaiian kiosk that serves Maui Wowi coffee and smoothies.

After the race, the car returned to its place of honor in the Upjohn Rotunda of Waldo Library--a testament to the fact that the library is about more than books.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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