Miss Jefferd was never at a loss for an apt epithet, often with a touch of malice. Even yet, I hesitate to quote those applied to various professors which were hilariously funny and with enough truth to sting. But I might mention one or two referring to places of things in the [Main Library] building, which for thirty years, were common library terminology, such as the “Cave-Brown-Cave”, “Mysteria,” and the “dinosaur”. All have entertaining stories, now part of our library folklore.
– Anne M. Smith in Scrapbook for a Golden Anniversary: The University of British Columbia Library, 1915-1965, p. 16.
Miss Smith, unfortunately, had nothing more to say in Scrapbook about Dorothy Jefferd’s epithets. Her final sentence was so tantalizing, I found myself internally pleading with her: Tell me one of these “entertaining stories”, please!
Alas, Miss Smith (1899-1990) and Miss Jefferd (1889-1971) have gone to their rewards. And in their absence and that of so many other library staffers for whom the terms ‘Cave-Brown cave’, ‘mysteria’ and ‘dinosaur’ would probably have been assumed knowledge, and with the recent wholesale renovation of the building that once was Main Library (into the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre), it has proven no small challenge to unearth what these terms referred to.
Venturing into the Cave-Brown Cave
I won’t keep you in suspense. The Cave-Brown Cave was, in fact, much less interesting than the epithet suggests. Indeed, according to Miss Smith’s contribution to UBC’s oral history (at about the 25 minute mark) the ‘cave’ was a windowless area that served as the staff tea room. There is no photograph of the tea room in the UBC Photo Collection, as far as I know. However, given Miss Smith’s verbal description of where it was located, I figure (and Erwin Wodarczak, of the UBC Archives, agrees) that it was probably at or near the Storage room shown in the crop of the 1964 drawing of the 3rd floor of Main (one floor up from the entry floor) shown below. The ‘cave’ element of the epithet is clear enough – since the room would have been a relatively dim space, without any windows. But what of the rest of the label? According to Miss Smith, the room was named after a Miss Cave-Brown-Cave who was a library staff person. It isn’t clear to me exactly who this person was. There is no record of a Cave-Brown-Cave in the list of librarians at the back of Scrapbook. It could be that she was a part-time staffer and/or a student.¹ Just why the tea room was named for this person has also been lost in the mists of time.
The Mysteria Beast
There seems to be little doubt that Mysteria was a room located in the basement (Level 1) of the Main Library. The basement was originally in large part given over to Men’s and Women’s locker rooms/washrooms and a fan/engine room (which presumably was the building’s electrical and heating plant). That changed over the decades; eventually the locker rooms were removed and the remnant was the fan/engine room, washrooms, a Bindery, and a Storage room. It would have been very unimaginative for librarians to refer to the latter as a Storage room, however. That room became Mysteria!
Mysteria seems to have had its first documented mention as such in the 1952 minutes of a meeting of Library division heads:
Operation Mysteria: Mr. [Neal] Harlow [Head Librarian] asked Miss Alldritt to report on this project. Miss Alldritt replied that the work was done, except what lurks behind the plywood partition in the cloak room. Everything remaining in Mysteria is shelved and everything that goes into Mysteria henceforth is to be shelved immediately. The room is now in good order….As soon as possible, the plywood partition will be taken down and the material stored behind it examined. Miss Smith believes that a great deal of it is wartime propaganda.
The note struck in 1952 seems to have been a bit optimistic. Fully 15 years later, the monster backlog that defined Mysteria was back (or, more likely, it had never left):
New Home for the Backlog: M*Y*S*T*E*R*I*A: Beneath Circulation [which was on Level 2], lies a large dark hole called the Mysteria, wherein have accumulated government publication duplicates, triplicates, etc. After some negotiation, several institutions were found to be interested in acquiring various sets from the treasures: some were even willing to pay for them. Many will be going to up-state New York University; others to the National Library and other institutions. Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria have already been through the collection from time to time. Packing started last Tuesday….
But if library staff had hoped to have slain the Mysteria Beast in 1967, they realized by 1977 that such hopes were the product of rose-tinted eyeglasses:
Living with Books in Storage: Stack space in the Main Library has been at a premium for many years now. As noted in the annual report for 1971/72, when books were returned en masse at the end of term, “in several areas, books would not fit on the shelves.” The problem of more books than shelf space is still with us – in greater intensity than ever. As a research library, we rarely discard books, a new building is not in the offing, and we continue to add about 50,000 new volumes to the Main Library every year. Like many other North American libraries, we have been forced to store part of the collection.
There are two major storage areas in the Main Library Building: Museum Storage, in the old Museum of Anthropology area, and “Mysteria” on level 1…. “Mysteria” is a holding area for the East Asian and Indic vernacular materials that will eventually move to the new library planned for the Asian Center.
The Dinosaur epithet remained a stubborn nut right up to the last minute before I published this post. I wasn’t able to find any documentary nor oral history sources that mentioned it (with the exception of the very bare reference by Miss Smith in the initial quote from Scrapbook).
Erwin Wodarczak, of the UBC Archives, didn’t know. He did speculate that it might have been a reference to the Fan/Engine Room on Level 1, “maybe because it was bulky and loud?” That made sense. My only guess was that Dinosaur may have referred to the room on Level 1 of Main Library where the Museum of Anthropology artifacts were stored (awaiting construction of MOA as a stand-alone site).
I decided I’d make one final search of UBC’s Open Collection to see if I could find anything more conclusive about the pre-historic epithet. I looked inside a 1959 Totem (UBC’s yearbook) and there it was on page 22:
¹There was a Miss Genille Cave-Browne-Cave (note the minor spelling variation) who was a student at UBC around 1938. She may have have had a part-time student job at Main Library; I don’t know.