Hidden Gems: Automated Shelves in the SciLi Basement


It was recently pointed out to me by my good friend, Johnny Lazebnik ‘16, that there are a lot of awesome places and things on campus that many people don’t know about. Despite being in a small bubble-like college environment, there’s a ton to do and see; while rushing through academic, extracurricular, and social routines, it can be hard to experience everything. But never fear, Wesleying is here, unveiling all of Wesleyan’s hidden gems so that you can get the most out of them or at least experience them vicariously through the Internet.

Starting off this series (no promises!) of posts is a mechanical treasure deep in the belly of the Science Library. If you venture down the stairs and past the fire exit that nearly everyone almost walks through, you’ll arrive in the basement. This is typically a quieter space, with several large tables, study rooms, and thesis carrels. You’ll notice, however, that this only takes up the front half of the room. If you head for the back, you’ll find rows of shelves, lined up like dominos, filling the space up to the back wall. But these shelves are no ordinary shelves. You’ll find that most of the shelves are so close together you can’t even get to the books on them! Seems strange, but this space-saving measure allows for a rather entertaining innovation: the shelves are automated.

That’s right, with just the push of a button, you can move one or more shelves out of your path, allowing you to get to your study materials. Pretty neat, huh? But why just stop there? Besides using the shelves for practical uses or just to marvel at the miracles of modern technology, you can have a lot more fun with them! If you’re down there and are in the mood for a study break that’s slightly more active than browsing the Internet, here are some things you can try.

Play Chicken

So, these robotic shelves have sensors that tell them when people are standing between them, in order to avoid having one clueless student crush their fellow classmate. They’re located underneath the bottom shelves, intended to catch one’s feet as they’re looking for their book of choice. It will not, however, recognize if you simply stick your hand in between two shelves. This leaves room for a game; challenge your friends (or better yet, your enemies) and see who has the most guts as you watch the automated shelf near your hand. See who can wait the longest to pull it out. If your hand gets completely smashed, you lose.

Pretend you are Harry Potter or a metal bender

Imagine how powerful you’d feel moving around giant bookshelves with the flick of a wand or the twist of a wrist. Push the button on the bookcase – I mean, harness your inner strength – and feel like a supernatural being, if only for a few seconds. Pretend you’re unlocking the Chamber of Secrets, or opening the door to a spiritual oasis in an air temple. I recommend investing in some costumes for this one to get the full experience.


Part the Red Sea

Get in touch with your religious side and experience the rush of carving a path. Granted, the stakes are a little lower, since you’re probably getting them a reference book rather than a motherland, but the rush is probably similar! To get the full effect, this requires some prep work: make sure to set up the shelves in a way that will allow you to press two buttons, sending adjacent shelves in opposite directions. There is a wall disguised as a shelf that limits the shelves’ movements so it’s hard to get a really impressive rippling succession of moving shelves. But I’m sure you, as a modern Moses, can manage.

Play Hide & Seek with a friend

Speaking from experience, this is super fun. You and your friend stand on opposite sides of the shelf. The seeker presses buttons in pursuit while the hider sneakily runs between the moving walls, avoiding being found. Doing this made me feel like I was in a cross between a paintball match and a Mario Party mini-game and not one of those lame ones where everyone gets coins at the end. It’s a nice way to get a mid-study adrenaline boost. Highly recommended.

Reenact the trash compactor scene from Star Wars

Hey! What about the sensor? Aren’t these robots programmed NOT to crush humans? Yes, inquisitive reader, but these sensors are pretty easy to circumvent. If you carefully step onto the bottom shelf, on top of the sensor bar, you can be inside the shelf without being recognized. As part of my dedication to journalism, I did test out this idea and it seriously made my heart jump, but it was also really fun. Luckily, C3PO heard me and I made it out alive. Try it at your own risk.

See how far into the shelves you can go without setting off the sensor

In the same vein as the previous suggestion, this challenge involves standing atop the sensor. However, this time, don’t risk your life – just your pride – as you try to prove to be the stealthiest of them all. Try and see how far you can go without the sensor catching you, indicated by the light on the button panel turning red. You’ll find it to be surprisingly difficult. I haven’t figured out how this works yet, but once you touch down between the shelves, it’ll know you’re there until you exit the premises. So it’s impossible to cheat. This is essentially playing Operation but using yourself as the tweezers and not having to pull a plastic wishbone out of a dude’s heart.

So, if you need a new study locale or a new kind of distraction, consider the SciLi basement as your new procrastination productivity destination. If you don’t try any of the above suggestions, at least give the shelves a look. Maybe show ‘em to your parents and flaunt Wesleyan’s technological prowess (my dad certainly enjoyed the tour). If you do, please be careful, and don’t tell ‘em I sent you.

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7 thoughts on “Hidden Gems: Automated Shelves in the SciLi Basement

  1. Catherine '14

    This is a super dangerous idea, though the shelves are really cool and useful.
    If this is going to be a continuing series that does not encourage physical risk-taking, here are my suggestions:
    On campus: the top floor of Allbritton room with windows on 3 sides (AMAZING views, and a nice studying spot), star gazing at the observatory, bulk ordering at Weshop, the little nature trail that runs between Home and Pine.
    Off campus: Russell library, Amato’s toy and hobby on main st.

  2. Concerned University Librarian

    Uhmmm … Circumventing the compact shelving sensors can be really dangerous–please don’t try this!

  3. Pleasantly Surprised

    This was really funny, I appreciate the content even though it isn’t serious journalism. More hidden gems please!

  4. Disappointed

    This was one of the most mind-numbing articles I’ve ever read on Wesleying. What is this, Buzzfeed?

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