September 18, 2013

Students Express Gratitude in Olin Notebook

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For many Cornellians, the leather-bound book sitting near Olin Library’s circulation desk might not even warrant a second glance. But the “Gratitude Book,” a notebook filled with thank yous and notes of appreciation written by community members, has a story that stretches back years to students who wanted to better mental health on campus.

“Gratitude is such a key element of the human experience, yet we forget to tell people how much their kindness and caring makes a difference in our lives,” a note placed by the book says. “Make up for it in this space. Document your thank you.”

Lauren Mangano ’11, one of the students who started the Gratitude Book, said the notebook is meant to be a place where community members can reflect on small acts of kindness throughout their time at Cornell.

“Our goal was to create a record of positive interactions on and around campus that students could browse and add to themselves,” she said. “We placed it in the library because we thought it was a place that students might need some extra encouragement.”

As a member of the University’s Student Library Advisory Council, Mangano worked with library administrators to bring the Gratitude Book to Olin Library. Although initially, the idea was for books to be placed in both Mann Library and Olin Library, ultimately, students decided to stick with placing one book in Olin.

“[We] worked with the students to discuss location, format and security, and once we had all the details worked out, they placed it in its current location in Olin,” said Kornelia Tancheva, the director of Uris and Olin Libraries. “I am always very interested in how the library can serve as a safe neutral place for our community, both intellectually and emotionally, as well as in bringing in and implementing student ideas in our spaces, so to me, this is a really important initiative.”

During its two years at Olin Library, the Gratitude Book has been filled with messages from students, professors and visitors. Though many writers thanked a specific friend or professor, others thanked Olin Library and its staff, as well as the University itself.

“Thank you to Cornell. You saw a potential in me that others did not. Your vision has allowed me a second chance at a new life,” David, who did not provide his last name, wrote in the book. He also thanked his friends and family for providing support to him.

An anonymous person thanked someone for “never giving up in me, even when I have.”

“Thank you for being my best friend, my sister, my umbrella when it rains, the arms that hold me when I’m scared,” the person wrote in the book.

Some messages were written in different languages —“Cám ơn,” or “thank you” in Vietnamese — or by visitors who praised the library and its resources.

“Olin Library is so beautiful, just like all of the other libraries at Cornell University. What a wonderful place to be a student,” someone wrote anonymously.

Most of the book’s pages have been written on, although blank spaces remain where additional messages can be written.

“In my opinion, it has far surpassed its goal, and I am basing this on its continuing popularity and on the overwhelmingly positive feelings expressed in the letters,” Tancheva said.

Many of the people who wrote in the book praised the initiative as well.

“Thank you for putting this book here! It has been a long time since I last stopped and thought for five solid minutes about the people I am grateful for,” an anonymous person wrote. “This whole world is about stepping up and stepping back, and gratitude is absolutely what keeps it all spinning. I’m so glad this book is here because gratitude can carry a person.”

The Gratitude Book — which was placed in Olin Library during finals week in 2011 — is not the only example of a mental health initiative that has been carried out in the libraries. During finals week in 2012, Cornell staff placed real grass in the library to help students experience a “cognitive, relaxing effect,” The Sun previously reported.