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Something Fishy…

You really never know what you’ll find in a library, as shown by what we stumbled upon in our own collection at Santa Clara University last month:

“One of my staff members stopped me today to show me this picture. Last week an ARS student found a mysterious packet inside a book along with unpleasant staining on the pages. After putting on some gloves they opened it and found this (yes it’s a fish),” tweeted Jennifer Nutefall, The University Librarian at Santa Clara University. 

Yes, a fish! More specifically, a sardine. Everyone was so confused — what was that doing in our collection? Thankfully, our Humanities Librarian Leanna Goodwater took one look at the finding and was able to shed some light on the situation:


“That fish (a sardine, by the way) has been in that book for roughly 35-40 years.  We thought we had found them all (yes, there were more — in fact, quite a few more), but obviously we missed one,” said Goodwater.

“Mystery solved! In the late 70’s or early 80’s SCU had a rivalry with St Mary’s. One evening some St Mary’s students drove here & distributed wrapped sardines through the card catalog & reference books. We thought staff had found all the fish, but it seems that they missed one,” Nutefall said in a follow-up tweet. 

Goodwater continues, describing the logistical consequences of St. Mary’s prank:

“Cataloging staff had to open every drawer in the public card catalog (thousands of them) looking for sardines, remove them and the catalog cards on either side, photocopy new cards on cardstock, and refile them in the catalog. Reference librarians and student employees had to hunt through the Reference Collection, looking for books on the shelves that might have a fish inside. There were some telltale clues, and we found most of them within a day or two. However, two or three came to our attention over the next few months. After that, we did think that we had found them all. Alas, we missed one, after all.

“Thank goodness, the St. Mary’s students did not go into our circulating stacks and secrete sardines throughout our entire book collection,” continued Goodwater. “That would have been an even worse nightmare.”

Goodwater also revealed that this wasn’t actually the only time that St. Mary pranked us. Our two schools used to have a huge rivalry because of football, culminating in the Little Big Game each year, but that fizzled away once the football program was shut down. The year after the sardine prank, St. Mary’s struck again:

“St. Mary’s students let white lab mice loose in the book stacks in the lower level of the Orradre building [the old library]. That was less expensive and disruptive (except, of course, for our screaming students), because all we had to do was catch the mice and take them out of the building. The poor animals were timid and terrified, and it was fairly easy to capture them.

“After the long drive down from Moraga stuffed in a backpack (we were pretty sure that was how they had been sneaked into the building), they were traumatized,” continued Goodwater. “That’s what angered me most about that ‘prank.’ It was animal cruelty plain and simple, and it bothered me a lot that students would treat helpless animals like that and think it was funny.”

Goodwater speculates that our biology department likely took the mice once they were collected from the library, but she wasn’t positive.

After hearing what St. Mary’s did to us, the big question remains: did Santa Clara ever retaliate? Goodwater doesn’t think so.

“I asked around amongst students to find out what our students did to St. Mary’s before the big game, but all I ever heard was that some SCU students went up one year and stole St. Mary’s goalposts off the football field.  At least that was related closely to the football game. As far as I ever learned, our students never targeted St. Mary’s library in retaliation.”

So, keep your eyes out! You never know what you may find in the library.


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