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“Accident” Damages Harvard Library’s LGBT Books

Thirty-six books on LGBT topics, including same-sex marriage and lesbian/gay/transgender issues, were damaged beyond repair last month after what the library at Harvard University now terms ‘an accident.’ The volumes, housed at Harvard’s Lamont Library, were soaked with urine. From a bottle subsequently found nearby. After a seventeen-day gap between library staff’s discovery of the ‘accident’ and reporting it to campus authorities.

The Yale Daily News reports:

The books, which covered same-sex marriage and lesbian and gay issues, were found in a state of irreparable damage in Lamont Library on November 24. Beside them on the shelf was an empty bottle that had presumably contained the urine.

Library staff did not report the incident until last Friday, December 10, when the news caused a stir as a hate crime. But on Monday the Harvard University Police Department concluded that the bottle had actually been spilled by “our own library personnel,” Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds wrote in a campus-wide email.

Harvard’s arch-rival’s daily paper concludes:

Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman Jeff Neal told the Crimson he does not know why a bottle of urine would be kept in the library to begin with.

We were wondering the same thing.

Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds wrote in an email to the Harvard community on Monday that the incident was an “accident” and will no longer be treated as a hate crime by University Police:

“I believe this is an important new fact in the investigation and warrants my sharing it with you immediately. While we should not minimize the seriousness of this incident, HUPD is no longer classifying this incident as a hate crime,” Hammonds wrote in her statement. “This nuance in the facts in the case also explains why library personnel did not immediately report the incident and treated it instead as a prank.”

Faculty of Arts and Sciences spokesman Jeff Neal wrote in an e-mail that it remains unclear why a bottle of urine was stowed in the library, adding that the spill was reported by the library employee—the same person who caused the spill, according to his understanding—and cleaned up the same day that it occurred.

A Harvard spokesman tries to clear up a question about the delay between the “accident,” its discovery, and the report to police:  . . .

According to Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal, library workers cleaned up the spill right after it happened, and considered the matter closed. Later, they realized they had to make an insurance claim for the damaged books, so they filed a police report as part of the routine paperwork.

Note, though, that there is still no explanation for the presence of a bottle of urine in the Lamont Library; Boston.com presents some possible theories:

1) Final Club punch prank. You saw “The Social Network.” You know the crazy things kids will do to get into the Porcellian. And come on…if a bunch of bluebloods told you to pee in a jar and put it in the library, would you really be able to resist?

2) Chemistry experiment. This is an institution of learning, a hotbed of experimentation, and who’s to say some enterprising student wasn’t using the stacks of Lamont to test some theories? About what? Hmm…the changing pH of urine in an open jar? The rate of evaporation in stale library air? Maybe it was one of those physics-for-poets Core science classes.

3) Hate misdemeanor. Urinating on a book about a minority group would be a crime. But leaving a jar of urine near said book…just in case someone happened to knock it over? That would be a passive-aggressive crime-ette, worthy of a brilliant and devious mind. Actually, it would make a great episode of “CSI.”

No word on exactly what books were damaged and what steps the Lamont Library will take to safeguard their replacements from such odd “accidents” by their own staff in the future.

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Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge

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