Library confessions revealed

By HermineBloom

Comments like “fish eat brain” and “go to Italy, be a cobbler” were stealthily etched into the walls and hidden cubby holes of the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library, also known as the focal point of student social life on campus.

Though the art is vandalism by definition, the graffiti that exists in this building has a cultural voice, which is why U of C alumna Quinn Dombrowski decided to take photographs of the messages and compile them into a book in the hopes that students and alumni everywhere can relate to the spectrum of human emotion presented in a quirky product of too much time spent in the library.

After a July 2008 L.A. Times article and subsequent September 2009 Chicagoist post about Dombrowski’s Flickr account, Dombrowski decided to independently publish a book titled Crescat Graffiti, Vita Excolatur: Confessions of the University of Chicago, which exclusively showcases the graffiti in the Regenstein Library.

“There’s definitely some inside jokes about University of Chicago and various dorms, and some really geeky stuff in there too,” Dombrowski said. “A lot of it speaks to a universal experience of any college student who’s working hard on classwork or anyone in the business environment who has a lot of work to do.”

Dombrowski explained that the book includes messages about love, sex, despair, bachelor’s degree papers, doodles, intellectual commentary, long discussions and much more.

She received a joint bachelor’s degree/master’s degree in Slavic linguistics from the U of C in 2006. She now works for the central IT organization for the university and has continued to take at least one picture a day for the past two years, she said.

After publishing the book through the site called and buying a distribution package from Amazon, 125 books have been printed and a couple of Hyde Park book stores now sell Dombrowski’s niche book.

“It creates an interesting voice for this very specific community, but one which I think would resonate with any person who has devoted such a huge chunk of their time to study in the pursuit of … something,” said U of C alumna Loranne Nasir. “When you’ve been in the library for hours on end, you tend to forget what exactly that ‘something’ is.”

Nasir, a 24-year-old collective maintenance assistant in the Book Stacks Department for the Regenstein Library, said she discovered Dombrowski’s Flickr site when it was mentioned in the L.A. Times. Since then, she habitually checks her site every Monday because that’s when she usually updates her photographs.

Nasir admits that though the Regenstein Library has amazing resources, the architecture is depressing.

“It’s this brutalist-style that looks like a bunch of really depressing, colored children’s blocks stacked up together and it’s really hideous,” Nasir said.

Despite its design shortcomings, Dombrowski said that every U of C student ends up at the Regenstein Library at some point.

Nasir’s 22-year-old roommate said the atmosphere at U of C is very intellectual as well as very expressive, which results in the kinds of graffiti that discuss professors, terrible classes and authors. Ultimately, people want to talk about the things that they’re dealing with in class, she said.

However, the library doesn’t officially condone graffiti. Thankfully, Dombrowski explained that there hasn’t been any backlash in regards to students drawing new graffiti specifically to be included in the book, perhaps to the credit of the disclaimer on her Web site.

In order to promote the release of her new book, Dombrowski is now hosting a remix contest through Dec. 20, in which she is encouraging students to recreate the graffiti with a different medium such as video, song, poetry, essay, digital collage, mash-up or essentially something physical that can be photographed or mailed.

Nasir said the contest is a neat extension of the book where she’s putting the graffiti back into the world and asking others to come up with their own impressions.

“I think it’s similar to how the graffiti works in the first place,” Nasir said. “Few items of graffiti here stand alone—they are edited, commented upon and appropriated.”

Dombrowski has created merchandise with the phrases on them as well, which she’s been selling on her Web site to family and friends.

“I still haven’t broken even on the whole project,” Dombrowski said. “I would not suggest publishing a niche book as a way to get rich.”

Overall, current students and alumni can commiserate over Dombrowski’s project for the simple fact that they’ve all been there.

“One person’s 3 a.m. procrastinatory doodle can provide hope for another that—contrary to how they may feel at the moment—there is life after Sosc and O-chem,” Nasir said.

For additional information, visit E-mail submissions to for the RegRemix contest through Dec. 20. You can find the book at Seminary Co-op, 57th Street Books, 5757 S. University Ave., and the Hyde Park Powell’s, 1501 E. 57th St., for $14.99.