The first time Kristen Cinar and Kathleen Maxheimer rowed in the Roth Regatta, they did not expect the S.S. Melville to survive the brackish waters of Roth Pond.
But survive it did – dry to the touch and intact, it squats by the entrance of Melville Library’s Central Reading Room, welcoming students to “Take a book, Leave a book”.
Now, it’s a point of pride and color in an otherwise drab room. What is the first University Library boat made for the Roth Regatta in 2012 is done in brilliant blocks of oranges, blues and purples. They morph into caricatures of paperback novels on closer inspection, as the names of J.K.Rowling, James Patterson and Anne Rice line the side of the cardboard structure. Dewey decimal numbers accompany each facsimile in white.
Their real life counterparts nestle next to each other inside, with a white cardboard flag waving above them. “Get Your Read On!” it says, urging students to peruse the free offerings of the former S.S.Melville.
“We got second place in the speedster division,” Cinar says. The manager of the Central Reading Room, she is one of the brains behind the conversion of boat to bookshelf, as well as a rower in the 2012 Roth Regatta. “We were really just surprised to place at all. We were imagining just – just making it through one heat. But then we did it. We ended up doing well.”
So well that a second boat already sits in the library’s break room. Its base is laid with fresh strips of duct tape; unopened cans of paint lean on a corner next to carpet tubes and empty boxes. Over the next couple hours, the skeleton of the second boat transforms into a waterproof vessel that will hopefully propel its participants across Roth Pond and into first place.
The volunteers that surround the second boat do not have the pudge of youth in their cheeks. Unlike typical Regatta participants, they are not college co-eds ekeing out time between classes and study sessions for a bit of hands-on fun. They are all full time staff for Stony Brook University, hired to keep the university’s library system running for its patrons.
They work on their boat during breaks and weekends. Most steal an hour here and there, cutting and stripping and painting as much as they can during lunch breaks.
But no one complains as they smooth red lines down the side of the boat with pencil-thin paint brushes or saw at tubes with a small Swiss army knife.
“Today’s Saturday,” Maxheimer says briskly. “We don’t normally come in on a Saturday.”
As an administrative assistant with the library’s Research and Instruction Services department, Maxheimer has as much time as any other full-time staffer at the library. That is to say, not much. “We [build the boat] on our lunch hours and a couple of people have stayed after work a couple times to do it,” she says. “But, you know, everybody pitches in and works as much as they can on it.”
According to Kenneth “Ken” Doyle, the assistant head of circulation for Credentials, Billing and Photocopy, this was only the second year library staff has participated in the regatta – despite the library having been a fixture at Stony Brook since the university’s conception.
He, along with Donna Sammis of Interlibrary Loans, replaces Cinar and Maxheimer as this year’s pilots. “We kind of have fun doing things,” he says. “It’s a great thing and a great presence for the library to be at these events.”
He gestures at the boat taking shape behind him on a table, its sides now painted white. “The theme is ‘America’, so we’re trying to incorporate a hot dog as a favorite food,” he says, laughing. “That’s what our boat’s going to look like, hopefully. Once we’re through.”
Cinar skips by the side of the boat, wearing a black tricorn hat. According to Doyle, one of the ideas before it was scrapped had been Washington crossing the Delaware River – an ironic historic representation of an American themed event.
This was not the first event that put the library staff in contact with the student body. As an unofficial library outreach coordinator, Maxheimer was particularly concerned with the library’s integration with the campus mainstream.
“In the past two years we’ve tried to figure out different ways to become more present in the student population and bring more students into the library,” she says. “There’s many resources that the library has that, until the student knows about them and understands how to access them, really, it’s not very beneficial.”
Placing second in an event meant for students had been, for Maxheimer, a huge step in that direction.
“As far as students go, they saw that the library was part of the campus community,” Cinar says. “They recognized us as more of a presence on the campus to begin because we got involved in a thing that might’ve been more of a student thing to begin with.”
Already, the library has been a large part of events thrown by student clubs and organizations. The Ultimate Frisbee club could be seen passing out their signature toy with the library’s logos stamped onto it in red as Stony Brook Compliments launches a new project, “Leave Love SBU”, in the library’s lobby.
But more than gaining campus recognition, some staffers are in it for the fun.
“My husband and I used to go [paddling] with friends on the Delaware River. We would go 15 miles a day,” said Donna Sammis, the second pilot in this year’s Roth Regatta. “I enjoyed pushing last year and watching my colleagues go down the pond. Especially in the first heat- that was amazing.”
Sammis, along with Doyle, Maxheimer and Cinar, was part of the team that worked on the S.S.Melville the year before. Now they, along with the rest of the Ketchup to Our Wiener crew, will either stand along the shores of Roth Pond or row towards the finish line as they compete against this year’s speedsters.
“Even if we don’t win, it’s still a lot of fun. You get out, there’s students, you get to enjoy the day,” Maxheimer says. “So, do I think we’ll do it again? I certainly hope so.”