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Widener Library Tumblr announced

Blog features inside look at collections, history and architecture

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    In case you were wondering...
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    A "Sprinkler Valve Through Door" post from The Calico Cat, published in 1864.
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    A "shelfie" showing books from Widener Library's Middle Eastern Collection.
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    The Widener Rotunda.

By Beth Giudicessi, HCL Communications

March 24, 2014 – Patrons who spend enough time in the Widener Library stacks are accustom to its many large, bright red signs. The signs read "Sprinkler Valve Through Door." They point to the building's fire suppression systems, but what they don't reveal are the many treasures contained within the more than 50 miles of shelving beyond those same passageways.

The signage took new meaning in early 2014 when librarians started a Tumblr blog, named "Sprinkler Valve Through Door," to act as a window into the collections, spaces and services of Widener.

"I'm hoping people familiar with the stacks get the title immediately and laugh," said Manager of Reference and Information Services Reed Lowrie, one of the blog's creators. "For others it will be unusual enough to warrant further exploration." Lowrie explained that the name resonates with the work of research librarians, who guide patrons through the rich collection of resources at Harvard in the way the signs are meant to guide firefighters.

The Tumblr blog is part of ongoing efforts to connect library users with Harvard's collections and research, teaching and learning services. What's more, it makes available images of Widener’s architecture and history to those who don't have the opportunity to visit.

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"We have a few recurring posts such as 'Where in Widener?' Wednesdays that show photos of the building's spaces, 'shelfie' images of interesting book groupings and 'Feline Fridays – because who doesn't love cats?" said Research and Digital Learning Librarian and blog co-founder Susan Gilman. "In the future, we would like to feature more of the work that our staff does behind the scenes, as well as historical photos of the library."

Lowrie, Gilman and a third co-founder, Emily Bell, welcome suggestions and content from students and library staff. They are already collaborating with colleagues Gregory Eow and Lidia Uziel to develop an ongoing series of posts highlighting new acquisitions and they have displayed contributions from Susan Fliss, Josh Parker, Kathleen Sheehan and Julia Starkey. The founders work particularly closely with John Overholt, who curates Houghton Library's early modern books and manuscripts and its successful blog, which was named to Tumblr’s list of "New and Notable Blogs of 2013."

"Houghton's Tumblr is incredible," said Gilman. "Museums are another place we look to for inspiration because they are very skilled and experienced with presenting items in a visually engaging way."

Though Lowrie admits that the project requires plenty of time to maintain, he says it quickly became a favorite part of his job. He recommends other libraries consider starting their own as a way to learn about and expose their collections. Though the blog is meant as a tool for others to discover what's inside Widener, Lowrie notes that the staff has come across a few surprises of their own. A few weeks ago, Gilman was searching for a book on women's suffrage and discovered a volume signed by Susan B. Anthony.

"We are also always working to make Widener more welcoming," Lowrie said. "We thought that a friendly, casual online presence could be part of that effort."