A living history of Swem Library


A frisbee, photographs, bottle caps, bookmarks and screws, Easter eggs, pamphlets, punch cards, paperclips, Pokemon cards, pencils, postcards, an 1884 Western Union telegram, stickers, a picture of a pug sticking its tongue out and a shirtless life-size cut out of Ryan Gosling — all of these things take up space in Ashley Gonzales’s office.

The William and Mary Swem Library director of user services and student supervisor, Gonzales has been collecting items found in the library since she started working there in 2013.

“I’m a little obsessed,” Gonzales said. “I like to find the weird stuff.”

In her five years, the collection has ballooned to more than 1,000 items. She hangs everything on the walls, organized into groups.

If you enter and scan the walls from left to right, the order would run like this: her favorite items, bookmarks, campus items, library items, 3-D stuff, business cards, trash, labels, photos, postcards, travel items, the vacation corner, inspirational pieces, receipts and stickers.

Some of the items predate her time at the library, some were found by other staff members; some were left on purpose, some by accident. All of them have made their way into her office, where Gonzales incorporates them into the evolving collection.

When new employees pass through her office to finish paperwork, they usually stare in awe until she gives them a tour. Some students stop by just to take a look.

Her favorite item is a picture of a pillar hidden in the library’s section for government documents, where students, with a roll of painters’ tape, made a Tardis telephone booth from the TV series “Dr. Who.”

Ryan Gosling is another main attraction. Also found in the government documents, students left a shirtless picture of the actor from the movie “Crazy, Stupid Love.” For modesty’s sake, Gonzales made him a black T-shirt out of cardstock and attached it with binder clips.

She said she has thought about putting him in the front passenger’s seat of her car and seeing if people notice. She calls him Ryan.

And then there’s the letter, hidden by a student in a random book in the stacks. It begins”

“Wed. April 23, 2014

“Dear TWAMP [typical William and Mary person], or whoever is reading the ‘Comic History of England… I am sitting hear [sic] 6 days before my Latin 102 final trying not to break out in tears…’”

The author wrote it a week before finals while studying for her Latin exam. She lost her notes and was copying a friend’s in the library. On a sheet of notebook paper, she bemoans finals week, translating Caesar, her grammar and that in 19 years, she had never been kissed.

It’s a narrative, a rant and a therapeutic complaint. The library has hosted live readings.

Gonzales met the student author last year and learned that there’s one more out there, hidden in another book. She’s searching, or as she calls it, “hunting.”

Gonzales hunts through the stacks when she needs a break from the desk. She notices leftover bookmarks when she goes to bookstores or other libraries, but only takes things when she’s at Swem.

“I’m not a hoarder,” she said. “I keep my apartment clean.”

One time, she lost her own bookmark and found it while checking in books. Gonzales didn’t take it back, she put it on her wall. It wasn’t hers anymore.

If Gonzales leaves Swem Library, she said she hopes the special collections department would take some of her collection, but she understands the chances are slim.

“It’s not officially historic. It’s fun and kitschy and quirky,” Gonzales said.

Even though she put it on display in the library as an exhibit last November, her collection isn’t a museum piece. It’s an accidental look at the private life of Swem library. It’s a still life mosaic made of sticky notes and index cards.

It’s more than a lost and found.

Petersen can be reached by phone at 757-345-8812 or by email at npetersen@dailypress.com.

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