Sleuthing Sandpipers? Yes. Here’s Why…


The symbol of this year’s scavenger hunt, a sandpiper, is quite accidentally a literary one, making it thereby appropriate for the environment.  Having originally been scheduled for the day before National Talk Like a Pirate Day, we might just have easily seen a more familiar and alluring symbol to attract treasure seeking participants.  A swashbuckling pirate, perhaps, sword clenched tightly between his teeth, a parrot atop his shoulder.  Better yet, make that a librarian pirate; swap the parrot for a cat. Both characters wear eye patches.  Yes, that would have been catchy.  But as fate would have it, instead of more effectively getting in the advertising mood, I reread Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Sandpiper” over lunch one afternoon, then directly began making dozens of promotional scavenger hunt buttons adorned with that very bird.

Perhaps it was the reference to the bird’s “state of controlled panic” that made me associate it most with the new students as I saw them, hurrying frantically about the unfamiliar campus, being redirected continuously by their own guesses, their second guesses, the poor directions of others, and finally defeated retreats as they approached the Reference Desk to stop and finally ask for help.

Or perhaps the panic was my own.  Having worked very hard to prepare for the incoming students, it’s never easy seeing anyone struggle to find information they seek, information you’ve tried to make easily available to them.  Faced with countless obstacles in today’s technologically advancing society, libraries of the past must shift gears, advance their space and services, and provide more electronic resources to a new generation of learners.  We, too, know how the world sometimes has a tendency to shake; the tide will often shift, leaving you running to keep up in another direction as new trends emerge. We struggle to keep our focus to stay abreast of the wave of ever-changing information technology.  There always remains a gap between old and new services, one that leaves some sense of mystery to new students who are unfamiliar with less modern, yet still efficient, tools of the past.  It is the job of the Library’s Instruction Team to help them find these tools and introduce them to a new world of resources that they were not aware existed. At first it’s difficult, a challenge. But then it becomes fun.  A game of sorts.  A scavenger hunt? Why not?

Despite the chaos of the world around him, Bishop’s sandpiper hones in on new worlds beneath his feet, represented by tiny grains of sand.  Each is beautiful and each unique.  In our visual aid, the button, the sandpiper follows a set of awkward but forward moving footprints that have been laid for him to follow.  As it turns out, the something that he seeks in the Library is the same something that we, too, have sought and hopefully found in anticipation of his journey, ways of discovering a world of knowledge and information to help us on our journey

Though this is by no means an attempt to analyze the poem itself, it is perhaps the longest explanation I’ve ever felt the need to provide in defense of a button.  I hope it has a little more meaning now and provides a little more insight into our goal behind the scavenger hunt.  Now hurry, go sign up today!


Janet Clarke

Janet Clarke

Associate Dean, Research & User Engagement at Stony Brook University Libraries
Janet Clarke
Posted in Library Instruction, Library Outreach