Library Living

April 14, 2012 at 1:06 am (In So Many Words, The Whim) (, , , , , , )

Beauty and the Beast, Disney

Every book lover has dreamed of one day living in a library.

Here is the story of a man who did.

(Prior to attending Baylor University, Benny was a Dallas Baptist University student with me.  He’s a fabulous guy, with some really unique life experiences.)

Library Living: Baylor alumnus ran low on cash, used study carrel for home

Oct. 2, 2009

By Olga Gladtskov Ball Reporter

Not many Baylor students can say that they have lived in the library for six months, spent a night in a Mexican jail or organized a campaign to bring Kinky Friedman onto the Baylor campus. Baylor alumnus Benny Barrett did all of it, and more, during his time at Baylor.

Barrett’s journey to Baylor began when Dr. Gary Cook, the president of Dallas Baptist University, encouraged Barrett to go on a campus visit to Baylor to consider transferring. While on his visit, Barrett ran into Dr. Robert Sloan, then chancellor of Baylor.

Jed Dean | Photo Editor
Benny Barrett, former Baylor student who had to choose between secretly living inside Moody Memorial library or leaving Baylor, rests his head against the very carrel he lived in for almost two semesters.

“I just walked up to him and ask him if he was Dr. Sloan because he looked like what I imagined he would look like,” Barrett said. Barrett told Sloan that he had just met an old friend of Sloan’s the week before. Sloan and Barrett discussed the friend, and Sloan invited Barrett to meet with him the next week. After the meeting, Barrett decided to attend Baylor.

Once at Baylor, Barrett ran into financial problems, causing him to research a new place to live: Moody Memorial Library. Barrett began his research in April 2006 and moved all of his belongings to his study carrel in May.

“I would show up to tests an hour late during summer session because the library opened at 9 and had to give some lame excuse about oversleeping,” Barrett said. For Barrett, the most difficult time in the library during the summer was during Fourth of July weekend, where he was not able to leave for days because the library closed for the holiday.

When the fall semester began, Barrett began to work at the library from 4 to 8 a.m. He would then sleep inside his carrel for a few hours before class.

“The libraries are important havens for study and respite, and my faculty, staff and I work hard to make them pleasant and safe student-friendly spaces,” said Pattie Orr, dean of university libraries. “I was not here at Baylor when Benny was in this difficult situation, but if I had been I would have wanted to reach out to him to see how we could help.”

Orr also said that Barrett was the only case of someone living in the library that she has heard.

“I lost weight,” Barrett said. “My eyes were always bloodshot. I would sometimes wear sunglass to class to hide it.”

Barrett hid his food, mostly consisting of Ramen noodles, behind his books. He also had a hot water heater and a sleeping bag hidden in his carrel. Barrett stopped sleeping at the library in December, when Dr. Scott Moore, associate professor in Great Texts, called him into his office.

“I explained my living arrangements to him and he got me placed in a dorm for the rest of the semester,” Barrett said. Prior to the meeting with the professor, Barrett had only told a few friends about his living conditions.

Moore said he was horrified when he found out that Barrett was living in the library. He then contacted others to help Barrett move into a dorm.

“I just got the ball rolling,” Moore said. “I called Frank Shushok (who supervised housing arrangements at the time) and said we’ve got to find this guy a dorm room. Frank called Jackie Diaz in financial aid and the folks in Campus Living and Learning, and they did all the work.”

“Friends invited me to live with them, but I didn’t want to be a leech,” Barrett said. Barrett was given a loan at the end of the semester to pay for the rest of his education.

“I found out about Benny’s secret lair in the library only from my colleague Scott Moore, who also told me that Benny was showering and changing clothes at the Student Life Center, Said Ralph Wood, university professor of theology and literature. “Moore made sure that Benny was able to get a scholarship that paid more than tuition alone.”

During his semester in the library, Barrett spent a night in a Mexican jail with his former roommate Osione Itegboje. Itegboje took Barrett to Mexico with him so that Itegboje, who is from Nigeria, could renew his visa. However, the pair was sent to jail when a guard discovered that Itegboje lacked a Mexican visa.

“It was a crazy experience,” Barrett said. “A whirlwind of a weekend.”

Itegboje and Barrett were released the next day and told that they could not enter Mexico for a year, under the threat of six months in a Mexican prison.

While on campus, Barrett fought another battle — governmental candidate, novelist and country singer Kinky Friedman had asked Barrett if he could arrange for him to speak on campus.  Barrett met Friedman at a Willie Nelson concert, and Friedman had expressed interest in speaking at Baylor. Barrett then founded Baylor Independents and began the process to get Friedman to Baylor.

“I have never been called to the principal’s office, Pat Neff, so many times,” Barrett said, “No one wanted him to speak on campus.” Barrett convinced administrators that if Friedman was not allowed to speak, Baylor would be showing favoritism toward Governor Rick Perry, who had already spoken at Chapel.

“They finally let him come on campus but wouldn’t let me have a reception for him so I had it at the Judge Baylor House, which isn’t associated with Baylor, but many people thought it was when they came,” Barrett said. The Noze brothers awarded Friedman with the honor of “Yellow Noze of Texas.”

Barrett, who graduated in 2008, still visits campus often, walking his teacup Chihuahua, Malcolm X, and spending time at his favorite place on campus: the library.

“Would that there were more Benny Barretts,” Wood said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: