Kristen Morse / Gavel Media

In O’Neill, Wisdom Comes From the Walls

Albert Einstein once said, “I have no particular talent. I am merely inquisitive.”  Now, Boston College offers a fountain of knowledge for the inquisitive among us. Trudge through the depths of the internet no further. All of your potentially uncomfortable, borderline politically incorrect, or downright simple questions have a sounding board in O’Neill Library’s new Answer Wall.

This amazing new resource is here to satisfy your intellectual concerns, offer sane solutions to your quandaries, and perhaps even resolve disputes among friends. The Answer Wall responds to all questions posed by students and faculty, as long as they are neither violent nor target a specific person. Situated on O’Neill’s third floor, where passersby can do little to avoid it, the wall provides the Boston College community with an anonymous resource for questions of any kind.

The Learning Commons Manager, Steve Runge, describes the Answer Wall as a “collaborative venture from the get-go.” Though it began as a “germ of an idea,” says Runge, inspired in part by a similar program at Duke University, the project has grown substantially. With nearly a dozen library staff from different referential backgrounds, the men and women behind the wall form a cohesive group dedicated to solving the plight of the inquisitors. Whether they ask, “Why are there so many outdated old books in the BC library?” or “How do I beat bulimia?” each question is answered. By interacting with students in this way, acting as the character of the wall, the library staff is able to engage with patrons in a new light.  

Of course there are questions posed via Post-it notes that stump the staff. For example, Runge explains, “We have received several Post-its in Chinese, some in Korean. We left the fold of our team to answer, rather, translate those.” Runge also recalls reaching out to campus ground maintenance personnel to answer an inquiry about the number of AA batteries it would take to power O’Neill Library.

In the same spirit that Manhattan’s Union Square subway station offered dissatisfied New Yorkers a place to express their discontent with Donald Trump via Post-it notes, the Answer Wall offers a place for the BC community to articulate their queries. However, the Answer Wall responds in a different kind of way. Unlike the Metropolitan Transportation Authority who ultimately dismantled the array of Post-it notes that masqueraded the station wall, the Answer Wall provides a detailed, often witty, and fiercely thoughtful response.

Runge and the rest of the staff have greatly enjoyed the experience, which began back in February. “It gives me an idea of what the students are thinking—their desires, fears, and concerns,” says Runge. Though many of the Post-Its are playful, there is a surprising amount of what Runge calls, “love and existential dread-type questions.”

The staff has noticed definite trends running through inquiries on the wall. February brought lovelorn, Valentine-centric questions, whereas midterms brought questions about combatting stress and procrastination. Runge ponders what types of trends will reveal themselves as, each year, new graduating classes contribute to the wall.

Despite its short and ever-thriving tenure, the Answer Wall is a great success and “surprisingly civil,” according to Runge, who believed the anonymity would precipitate crude and/or harmful notes from those inclined toward immaturity.

Students do try to “catch us [the staff of the wall] off guard, but we are pretty savvy,” boasts Runge. For example, students try to do so with obscure cultural references. While Runge readily admits he is not the man to answer questions on pop culture, staff members typically provide answers that fall into their frame of reference. However, they often put their heads together to resolve the more challenging topics.

Now it’s your turn. Gather all those questions you’ve never had answered—all those uncertainties you want rooted in sanity— and defer to the Answer Wall. We, at The Gavel, have one: How do we make 2020 come sooner? That answer we would surely like to know.

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