Friday, 31 October 2014

The basement stacks

It was the summer of 2010 and I was in my final few months of my MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield, spending my days grappling with research methods and data analysis as I wrote up my dissertation, and my evenings working as a shelver in the Western Bank Library there. This had been the main research library before the fancy Information Commons was built, and had a lovely spacious sunny reading room, along with several floors of old-fashioned windowless basement stacks, tightly packed with shelves of journals. Part of my role as the library closed for the night was to go downstairs and switch off all the lights and lock up the doors on the little staircases between the basement floors. It was quiet and very dark down there with all the lights off - you had to take your phone with you to use as a torch - and neither I nor the other shelver liked doing this, so we would take a floor each and try to get it done and over with as quickly as possible.

One night I had switched off the main lights, and there was only one dim light in the middle of the shelves left to go. I was walking down the aisle towards the yellowish glow, when I noticed the book trolley sitting at the end of it. It was oh so gently gliding from side to side, back and forth, the creaking of the wheels audible in the otherwise silent room. There was no one else around.

I was seized with a sudden urge to run, and without any further thought I left the light and turned and legged it up the aisle towards the exit, with an overwhelming expectation that something was going to reach out from the shelves and grab me. But nothing got in my way and I made it out and upstairs to the evening sunlight.

No one else I've spoken to since has experienced anything like that down there. I don't know if I believe in ghosts. There may well be a rational explanation for the moving trolley, and that would demonstrate the amazing power and complexity of the human mind - that I was certain that something was wrong and that I was in danger. That tapping into human fear, that writers and filmmakers who create horror play on.

Whatever it was, I haven't ever forgotten it.

Happy Halloween.

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