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The why and what of the Scuttlebutt

If you’ve ever found yourself in the library bathrooms, nothing to look at but the stall walls, then you might have noticed the “Scuttlebutt” newsletter hanging up. The public toilet isn’t exactly the first place where you’d think to look for some form of advertisement, but the Scuttlebutt is there nonetheless.

The word ‘scuttlebutt’ is defined as an informal term for rumor or gossip. These flyers contain various information about different campus resources and how to take advantage of them as well as advertisements for upcoming events and exhibits in the library gallery.

But why provide this sort of information in the bathrooms of all places? To find out, The Retriever went in search of the person responsible for making the Scuttlebutt happen.

Unfortunately, the contractual librarian responsible for making the Scuttlebutt no longer works at UMBC due to budget constraints. (No, she wasn’t paid just make the Scuttlebutt; she also had other important duties to take care of.) Nevertheless, Kathryn Sullivan, the head of reference at the UMBC library, graciously provided the inside scoop.

The idea for the Scuttlebutt dates back to 2012. The staff at the library wanted to find ways to “market events and services the library offers” and they noticed The Commons had advertisements located in their bathrooms.

According to Sullivan, “One thing we hear a lot from students… is that once they become juniors and seniors and learn about the different services the library offers, they often say, ‘Oh, I wish I had known about that as a freshman, it would have been nice to know about this particular resource.'” The Scuttlebutt served as an additional way to market library services in addition to other methods already in place, such as the library’s social media accounts as well as their website. The bathrooms offered information to a “contained audience.”

“The ideas that we get for [the Scuttlebutt] we pull from somewhere else,” continued Sullivan. “In the past, assuming we would have a lot of new students in the fall, we would have some flyer telling students how to print and other things which students ask about over and over again. During certain times of the year, certain types of articles and snippets in the Scuttlebutt seem to make sense.”

Initially, staff at the library found it difficult to get the Scuttlebutt off the ground, as no one currently on their roster has a background in graphic design. Around the end of 2013, thanks to the willingness of a contractual librarian, the Scuttlebutt finally gained some traction.

“She would set aside time every month to put stuff together and she would work with the social media group that we have to make sure their information was in there,” said Sullivan. “It was great to have one designated person to work on it.”

However, with the introduction of a new library director and increasing budgetary issues, this summer the contractual librarian left the UMBC library and Sullivan took on her role. Yet because she does not feel her graphic design skills are up to snuff with the previous Scuttlebutt designer, only one issue of the Scuttlebutt has been made this semester. There are no plans to keep the Scuttlebutt going on a regular basis any time soon.

“I’m hoping to do a couple a semester, but the [contractual librarian’s] design skills were much better than mine, so that’s kind of where we’re at,” Sullivan explained.

While the Scuttlebutt may never regain its former glory, new technology may have rendered it obsolete. At the entrance of the library hangs a huge electronic information board, which has the details of not only events and services offered by the library, but up-to-date logistics such as how many computers are available on each floor.

The ads located in the library primarily focus on details and information pertaining to the library. However, after Sullivan also toyed around with the idea of using the plastic frames in bathrooms that once housed the Scuttlebutt for paid advertisements from student organizations and groups outside of the library’s interests.

The Scuttlebutt, a once handy but under appreciated flyer situated in the confines of library restrooms, now appears to be a thing of the past, but that does not mean we can’t give it one last hurrah as we wave it goodbye.