There are a pile of pages ripped from an old typewriter on reference librarian Michael Beller’s desk when he walks into his office. Beller, in his yellow and green argyle sweater, said he is just glad they aren’t written with a headache-inducing quill.
These pages, once retyped, will become the Miss Nomer column in the next edition of Shhh!, the Mills College library newsletter.
Now on its 15th issue, Shhh! was an idea to promote the library and some of its aspects people may not be aware of, such as cookbooks, videos and unique journals.
“The purpose behind the newsletter was to put the library more in focus on campus, to let the community know that the library is more than somewhere to run in and get your reserve books,” said Moya Stone, Shhh!‘s editor, a library specialist at Mills’ library and a 2003 Mills MFA alumna, who came up with the idea. “We try to highlight some of the things people may not be aware of.”
Stone and Beller produce eight issues a year, once a month (except during the summer) with a combined August/ September issue. It comes out on the first working day of each month.
Before the first issue in August 2005, Stone, Beller and Clarence Maybee, a librarian who left the library after last semester, met to work out the details of the newsletter, such as title, format and what should be in the issues. The name was a major thing they discussed. They were throwing out ideas when Beller said “Shhh!”
“I was being obnoxious. What does everyone know about libraries? Shhh!” Beller said. “But I said it as a joke and they took it up. I deny all responsibility. I was probably just telling them to be quiet to let me think.”
Whatever the origin of the name, the newsletter’s readership appears to have grown with 141 hits on the Web site in December and that doesn’t include the print copies Stone puts on the reference desk, the circulation desk, the Mills Hall living room and in Susie’s Caf‚.
“I have no idea that people actually read it. I know occasionally I’ll make people read it,” Beller said. “I run around the library and if people I know are in the library ask them if they’ve seen the latest edition of Shhh!”
Beller may have new hope as he has relocated to Maybee’s old office in view of the pile of Shhh! that is always on the circulation desk.
“This is actually the first time I’ve actually seen it go down,” he said. “I’ve been really surprised and impressed and happy to see that people have been picking it up on their own.”
Each issue has a different theme, everything from banned book week to health to feminism. This month’s theme is the (lost) art of letter writing. Stone faces the challenge of coming up with the theme each month and keeps a list of ideas.
“It’s getting to be harder and harder as we publish more issues,” she said.
In addition to new ideas, Stone tries to connect the theme to larger things going on. For instance, the upcoming April and May issues will contain useful ideas for graduating seniors and for summer.
The entire issue focuses around that theme, including information on it, books in the library about it in a special section called “check-it-out,” tips, upcoming events, sometimes an author profile and Miss Nomer’s “slice of life rants.”
“There’s a lot of academic bent to it, but it’s also a personality piece,” Beller said. “I like that this is some personality that the library has of its own that people might like and have some sort of attachment to the library.”
Neither Beller nor Stone would reveal the identity of Miss Nomer.
“She was a librarian here for many years, and she’s just lost in the stacks. I don’t even know if she was a librarian here, she’s just lost in the stacks,” Beller said.
Stone describes Miss Nomer as formal, somewhat cryptic and timeless, while Beller says she is old, crotchety and, in a whisper, “kind of loony.”
The true identity of Miss Nomer may always be a mystery, but Building Access Administrator Kathy Dodge has an inkling that it is Stone.
“It captures Moya’s personality, too. She’s a good writer, although she insists she’s not Miss Nomer,” Dodge said. “It’s probably just an alter ego.”
Stone works on the newsletter on and off, and from beginning to end it takes about three days. She usually tries – and succeeds – to have the issue finished three days before the end of the month.
“Moya does an awful lot of work on it. She’s a superstar,” Beller said.
In the end, Shhh! is all about what students can find in the library and how the staff can help everyone find it.
“The library kind of is a comforting place to come to. There is so much available in so many forms for not only knowledge, but entertainment,” Stone said.
Feedback on Shhh! is always welcome and even encouraged. Comments can be sent to Stone at firstname.lastname@example.org .
And as Beller says, “The library’s a happy place.”