Wall of fun facts: Comaraderie, conversation, and teachable moments

Melissa D’Agostino

When I began working at Towson University’s Albert S. Cook Library, as the “low man on the totem pole,” I got a desk situated so that I sat staring at a large expanse of blank, off-white wall. Knowing that a large number of my colleagues could see it as well, I pondered for weeks what I should put in the space. Then one day I was reminded of why I was drawn to reference librarianship in the first place: My love of learning random, generally useless, facts. Thus began my office-famous “Random Facts I Learned while Working at Towson” wall that draws visitors from all over the library.

When I started the project, I hoped to post facts I learned from students’ questions at the reference desk, but as the semester progressed and the questions answered were typically about how to find a specific book or how to print, I allowed myself to post any facts I learned while in the library. I quickly learned that, in the world of random-fact-gathering, spontaneous conversations between librarians glean the best fodder.

We may be chatting about the stir-fry I brought for my dinner and wonder, what exactly are water chestnuts? As librarians, we can’t just let that question float away but quickly turn to the resources at hand to find the answer (see below). And voila, I post it to my Wall to educate the rest of the staff.

The reference librarians at Cook Library have their offices split between two floors: about a half dozen are located on the fourth floor in individual offices, while the rest of the team has cubicles in a large open room on the third floor. As I and my Wall of Facts were located on the third floor, one of the unintentional outcomes of this project was to lure the librarians from the fourth floor down to see it. While the Wall of Facts was also located right next to the sole color printer, one of the fourth floor librarians noted how she now loved to come down to pick up color print jobs, as she was always rewarded with a few new facts to learn.

Another librarian mentioned how the Wall of Facts boosted camaraderie and conversation between librarians—similarly to how many office workers gather at the water cooler for discussion, librarians gathered at the Wall of Facts to learn and share. In this manner, many librarians began contributing to the Wall as well, sharing facts related to those already existing, or offering unrelated tidbits for inclusion. I discovered that one of my colleagues was a seemingly never-ending source of word etymologies, and he found it very cool to see his trivia appear on the Wall.

New librarians that started after me reported that it made working at the reference desk more fun. One librarian observed that she subsequently saw the questions from students as a chance to learn new things rather than a “mundane task.” One librarian new to the profession said, “I thought [the Wall] was reflective of the attitude within the entire reference department, to be as helpful as possible and to make every moment a teaching moment.” She further noted that these effects of the Wall made her transition into a career at Towson seem less of a challenge and more of an opportunity.

Along those lines, I too found the Wall to be a great way to segue into my new position at Towson. Not only did gleaning facts from students allow me to interact with them on a slightly deeper level than strictly necessary, but the Wall also allowed me to network with, and really get to know, my new colleagues.

Perhaps a little too much at times, I’ve learned about co-workers food preferences and allergies, fears, and obsessions. These outcomes of my spontaneous Wall of Facts were in no way foreseen by me when I started the project, but the Wall truly has been a benefit to all in the department.

The “Random Facts I Learned while Working at Towson” wall. Photo by Melissa D’Agostino.

And thus for the enjoyment of a much broader audience, I present to you a sampling of the facts I have learned during my tenure at Towson:

  • Originally, a sunroof was a metal panel that let in air and light only when opened, while a moonroof was a glass panel that would let in light all the time.
  • Vexillology is the scholarly research of flags.
  • During the 1960s reconstruction of the Prime Minister’s house in London, the famous black bricks were found to be yellow covered with more than 200 years of pollution (they were then painted black to preserve the iconic look).
  • Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the fear of long words.
  • A teddy bear collector is called an arctophile. Authentic diners were prefabricated at a factory and then transported to the site.
  • In 1916, in Erwin, Tennessee, the only known elephant lynching took place after the elephant killed a townsperson/circus volunteer.
  • Until 1971, British currency consisted of 12 pence per shilling and 20 shillings per pound then the conversion changed to 100 pence per pound.
  • Most geckos have fused eyelids, meaning they can’t blink.
  • The skin of mangoes contains the same chemical that is found in poison ivy.
  • Composer Gustav Mahler was one of Sigmund Freud’s first patients.
  • The water chestnut is an edible bulbotuber that grows underwater in mud in the marshes of China and the Philippines. Its plant is a rush with leafless green stems that grow to 5 feet tall.
  • The country of Sri Lanka was once known as Serendip, whence comes the term serendipity (from the Persian tale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” who were always making accidental discoveries.)
  • Jousting is the official state sport of Maryland. The official state team sport is lacrosse.
  • The Library of Congress’s collection, as the largest in the world, fills an estimated 838 miles of bookshelves.
  • Bison can jump 6 feet vertically into the air from a standstill.
  • Delaware is the only state without a national parks.
  • A blood pressure device is called a sphygmomanometer.

Copyright © 2013 Melissa D’Agostino

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