Squirreling Around During Finals

Each fall, a fresh-faced bunch of newlings comes to campus with dreams of independence and future prospects dancing about their heads, a world of opportunity and exciting new experiences presented at every corner. And at the end of each successive spring, harried and exhausted, the same students trudge about PCL all hours in a fog of dread and worry, struggling to meet project deadlines and prepare for finals.

In recent years, staff have attempted to ease attending anxieties by different means, from art therapy on the whiteboards throughout the library to partnering with campus units for healthy snacks and massage chairs to the recurring presence of therapy pets from local agencies, all of which efforts have been met with great appreciation from library users,

Being on the front line, our circulation staff have the most frequent contact with students in the throes of finals pressures, so they also tend to be the most attuned to the stress cycles, and are great at imagining ways to overcome or at least temporarily alleviate them.

This semester, staff wanted to try something new, something fun and goofy that would shake the doldrums and reinvigorate the weary denizens of PCL with a jolt of the unexpected. By now, most people have come across some version of the ubiquitous T-Rex costume that’s been a major currency of YouTube videos; that buzzy novelty is what created the spark of an idea for the eventual decision by staff to create their own costume persona that could serve as the embodiment of silliness and distraction for overtaxed students in need of a break.

Staff settled on creating the albino squirrel.

For the uninitiated, the albino squirrel* has become a bit of a folk hero around the Forty Acres. The squirrel (or squirrels — who knows?) is told in lore to be a harbinger of good fortune to anyone who spots the animal. Students are known to actively seek out the tree-dweller for particularly worrisome exams, so it made perfect sense for staff to conjure the animal for the benefit of students, especially at this particular time of the semester.

Being that staff had an idea and some spanking new tools with which to act upon it — in the form of the new Foundry makerspace in the Fine Arts Library — they only lacked volunteers to set about the task. From among their ranks they discovered that they had the requisite skill sets to create the form for the creature.

Early in the spring, senior library specialist Janeice Connors and Tré Miles, a student associate from the Kuehne Physics-Mathematics-Astronomy Library and Textiles major, began intermittent work on designing and creating a man-size version of the bushy-tailed talisman in the Fabric Arts Lab at the Foundry. By late April, the Connors and Miles had logged dozens of hours cutting, fitting, sewing and stuffing, and the suit was finally ready for its debut.

JD Torian, the Albino Squirrel (aka Joe Dobbs) and Lorraine Haricombe.
JD Torian, the Albino Squirrel (aka Joe Dobbs) and Lorraine Haricombe.

On Wednesday, May 10, accompanied by Libraries Director Lorraine Haricombe and Austin’s Pizza owner J.D. Torian, the albino squirrel stepped off the elevator on the 6th floor of PCL, and began a whirlwind tour of the library, spreading joy and smiles (And pizza. And KIND bars.) to appreciative students who got a much deserved break from their studies and a hopefully a little luck from their friends at the Libraries.

Postscript: Tré Miles graduated in May, and parlayed his experience building a squirrel (not really) to land a spot at Michael Kors in NYC. Congratulations, Tré!

*Yes, yes, Mr. Smartypants…we’re well aware that it’s not really an albino, just a rodent with a recessive gene.

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