Many libraries have suggestion boxes, but few have as consistent a history as that at the University of Idaho Library. First established in 1959, by 1978 its box-on-a-bulletin-board shape had been transformed into a self-standing hexahedral container raised on one point, otherwise known as the Cube. The Cube (newly reconstructed in oak in 1991) continues to accept suggestions, comments, and accolades from which a selection is made for publication in nearly every issue of The Bookmark since 1961.
Although some suggestions or comments are repetitive or cyclical (temperature control, noise, photocopiers, newspaper timeliness, food and drink, library hours, the end of semester shelving backlog, and fines) the Cube received a number that were either unique or deserved a unique answer. Harsh at times, but never patronizing, the Cube is clearly a suggestion box with an attitude. Some examples:
NOISE: I would certainly appreciate if the persons who are responsible for answering the telephone on the second floor would please answer it. (1962)
ANSWER: Ah, yes! This was our popular phone – the first three digits of the number were the same as those of a girl’s dormitory, a fraternity, a doctor’s office and a tavern downtown. If, when dialing from campus, you forgot to dial the prefix for these off-campus numbers, you called us. Eighty per cent of the incoming calls were wrong numbers. We learned more interesting things this way. Life has been a bit dull on the second floor since the number was changed. But we trust you are now enjoying the quiet.
COPY MACHINE: I was about to compliment you on the new copy machine, but when it robbed me of a dime, I decided to make both a compliment and a complaint. Last week I put in a dime and my copy came part way out; then it reversed and went back into the machine. It took me two dimes to get the copy. (1965)
ANSWER: Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. If this happens again see the Loan Librarian.
MULTIPLE CARD CATALOGS: Put a card index for that floor on each floor in addition to a master on the main floor – or on elevator. (1968)
ANSWER: You are treading in the realm of utopian expenses. Such a project would cost us close to $100,000. The elevator, we freely confess, would give us a lift - but is this trip necessary?
CLOSING: Why not close [the] library at 11 pm instead of 10! (1971)
ANSWER: "If money go before, all ways do lie open.“ (The Merry Wives of Windsor)
DOGS: Those people who bring their dogs to the library and then leave them outside unsupervised and unchained should be bludgeoned beyond recognition and left by the side of the road to rot. REPEAT offenders should be dealt with more harshly. (1981)
ANSWER: You sound as if you would be glad to do the bludgeoning. I hope you’re not suggesting that the library staff be issued cudgels and be assigned to making rounds outside the building. We have enough to do on the inside – evicting the eaters and drinkers, hushing the children and babies, reminding students not to sing along with the records in the Browsing Room, separating lovers, and answering the suggestion box. The dogs are lucky you’re on their side. Dog owners beware!
GATES: Why are the gates that everybody is forced to walk through at the same height as my gonads? Are you trying to increase the size of the University Choir’s soprano section? How about raising the gates a foot or two? That way they’ll hit me in the belly. Better yet, eliminate the damn things! I feel that the gates are a health hazard to a majority of the men at this library. Sincerely, Bruised. (1983)
ANSWER: Dear Gentle, but Bruised, Reader: Miss Manners deplores the public airing of such private matters. However, she has purchased a tape measure and will soon be stopping men on a random basis (of her choice) to make appropriate measurements. You don’t say how tall you are. Considering the variations in the height of men, women, and children using this library, the gate could strike one person in the mouth and someone else in the kneecaps. Shall we install 10 gates of varying heights to accommodate everyone?
You’ll have to accept the gate, part of our book theft detection system, and walk slowly. Why not push open the gate with your hand instead of your ... ? Not having the book detection system would be a health hazard to the library.
SUGGESTION: Maybe your "library” (and I use the term loosely) would be better appreciated if the person(s) who write rebuttals to suggestions would get up on the right side of the bed for once and quit being so damn rude! I thought libraries were built on the concept of helping people, not tearing them down. How rude can you get? (1984)
ANSWER: The cube arises at 4am, puts in 5 miles, eats Wheaties and arrives with a smile. Then the box is opened, and the day is spoiled. Most questions deserve (and get) a straight answer. People who get grouched at are those who have a gripe, but aren’t willing to make any effort themselves. An example is the numerous complaints about socializing and noise in the study areas. If the people who were bothered would speak up directly, the Library would be happy to shush those who didn’t respond. Same way with the person who wanted more telephones installed because many people were holding long conversations. Is it rude to be a little assertive when others are inconsiderate? Most of the time they’re unaware and cease and desist when made aware of the problem.
SARDINE: I feel like a sardine after using your microfilm readers. I have nothing against computers (even own one) but resent being crowded out. I have a good idea: why don’t you buy new readers of smaller size! (I would like to buy one of the old ones!) (1985)
ANSWER: You don’t mean sardine, you mean “Microfish.” Ha Ha. The big gray Recordaks were one of the most successful and best microfilm readers ever made. They were durable and easy to use, which is why (I guess) Kodak stopped making them in favor of cheap junk which broke down all the time, and had to be replaced regularly. You can be sure that we’ll continue to keep them until we can’t scrounge parts for them anymore.
P.S. Pay no attention to the terminals – computers are a passing fad. People will soon tire of them.
FAN: I’ve always wanted to see a note written by me on this box, but since I never have a complaint, I never get to write. However, this is my last semester here and I’m wondering if you could possibly post this one just for me. Thank you, A Fan. (1986)
ANSWER: Sorry, I can’t do that. It’s against library policy.
QUESTION: Why are you so LAME? (1989)
ANSWER: Only got one leg!
BUGS: Enclosed is a very large bug that I found on the 3rd floor. You really should control your pest problem. (1989)
ANSWER: The animal in question is a Hemipterian, Buggus squashus. Since it makes its living sucking plant juices, only Idaho (couch) potatoes need fear it. If I wanted to control my pest problem, I’d stop up my slot.
CLOCKS: Where are the clocks, we need more clocks. How do we know when to leave and go to class without clocks? Put up more clocks!!! (1993)
ANSWER: You have now reached that stage in life where Mommy no longer gets you up for school, and bells and teachers don’t signal you to move from one class to the next. Between now and when the nursing home attendant rolls you into the lounge to watch Wheel of Fortune, you are responsible for your own schedule as an autonomous human being. Deal with it: Buy a watch.
P.S. We plan to put in some more clocks after all the moving is done and we check the sight lines. But because most of the study areas will be located in small groups between the stacks, many won’t be in sight of a wall clock.
RETURN: Oh Great and Wise Cube! I am a returning student after almost twenty years and am heartened to find that you still sagaciously enlightening the masses in their quest for knowledge and wisdom. Many things have changed but you are an anchor in this sea of entropy. I anxiously await the morsels that will appear upon your surface. (1997)
ANSWER: Appreciation of things cultural obviously improves with age.Written in 1998 for the UI Library's Digital Memories website.