Beneath O’Malley: The Secrets of the Subfloors



Spanning across 85,000 square feet, it’s unlikely that each Jasper has been in every single nook and cranny of O’Malley Library. Though frequented by students all days of the week (and all hours of the night), most studiers have probably never found their way into the depths of resource space beneath O’Malley: the subfloors.

“Subfloors are the lowest book storage in the library,” said Amy Handfield, access services librarian. Handfield holds tours of the subfloors for anyone interested on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. and Wednesdays at 2 p.m., or by appointment.

There are two full subfloors, also known as “decks,” and two half-floors, also known as “half-decks.” The half-floors are below the lowest level of the library (the first floor), and the two full floors are located alongside the second and third floors of the library.

The subfloors are part of original library, the Cardinal Hayes Pavilion, whose brick wall, massive windows and pillar can be seen in the atrium of the newer part of the library. The Cardinal Hayes Library was first built in 1938, named after Cardinal Patrick Hayes, a 1888 Manhattan College graduate and later Cardinal of the Archdiocese of New York. The newer part of the library was built in 2002 thanks to a large donation made by Alice and Tom O’Malley.

Subfloors 1A & 1B:

The first to be experienced is subfloor 1B, when starting from the bottom and heading up, the order typically taken on the subfloor-tour given by Handfield. It is the lowest subfloor, as mentioned, it is located below the first floor of the library, and it is by far the “creepiest.” All of the subfloors have motion-activated lights, and, as there are no windows in subfloors 1A and 1B, they remain in complete darkness until you walk down the steep staircase and push through the creaky door.

“It was a specific type of library architecture that occurred at the time,” Handfield said when speaking about library construction in the 1930s. “An example would be Butler Library at Columbia; it’s a similar setup of their ‘stacks,’ so the idea of subfloors was something that was very architecturally specific to the time period and doesn’t exist anymore.”

Subfloor 1A and 1B house books that follow the Dewey Decimal System, the famous library “call system” normally used for public libraries, not school ones. Most books stored on the subfloors are pre-1980, compared to the books in the newer collection.

“A lot of people who come down here are looking for religion or literature because of that more historical aspect…they’re looking for an historic viewpoint,” Informational Services Librarian Sarah Cohn said. “Sciences aren’t represented as much down here.”

“The lower you go, the odder it smells,” Handfield said as she led the way. “We’re actually underground right now, so that’s part of it, and it’s just old book smell.”

Catherine Shanley, assistant director of the library, has been working in the library for over 40 years and recalls hearing that the first subfloor was once an artillery range for the NJROTC.

Subfloor 2:

When you climb up to subfloor 2, located alongside the second floor of the library, you “start to see signs of life,” Handfield says. Most of the works located on this subfloor are periodicals and bound journals, which nowadays are published directly online.

When asked how often students or faculty venture down to the subfloors to get books, Cohn said “surprisingly often.”

“I help people get books from down here several times a week I would say,” she explained.

“Usually, because as you’ve discovered it’s a very interesting path down here, people will ask for assistance,” Handfield added.

“I don’t really send them on their own,” Cohn agreed. “That would be mean.”

Besides just the almost-hidden location and different organizational system that make it difficult for students to go down and find books for themselves, the librarians also admit that the spaces are, for lack of a better word, scary. And, it’s not just their depth and darkness that make them that way.

“As far as the old library, there are definitely rumors of paranormal activity,” Handfield said.

“The circulation people open and close [the subfloors], and I know that they don’t like opening up, because they feel like they are ‘disturbing the peace’,” she explained. “Or, not necessarily don’t like it, but still feel it.”

“I won’t come down here at night, for what that’s worth,” Cohn said. “Even with the lights on.”

Subfloor 3: 

Subfloor 3 houses more journals, plus some desks and reading spaces. It is undeniably unique architecturally, boasting huge glass windows where the sun shines through and exposed piping on the ceiling.

Cohn and Handfield said that although students aren’t likely to “hang out” on the lowest subfloors 1A and 1B, during final exams they will often find their way into the upper subfloors 2 and 3 to get away from the crowds.

“This space is being re-appropriated,” Handfield said of subfloor 3. “This is a really cool space, and, we actually thought it could be utilized as student space.” Handfield and Cohn imagined the large room without the rows of unused periodicals and instead lined with comfy chairs for studying.

It was actually outside this subfloor that a “ghost-sighting” occurred years ago.

“The person who organized the construction of this building, Cardinal Hayes, who the library is named after, supposedly when they were christening the building he mysteriously passed away after it was done,” Handfield explained at the beginning of the tour. “So, people say that his presence is still here.”

Assistant director Shanley tells a story of how one night when she was closing up on the second floor she looked above her and saw the ghost of Cardinal Hayes running around the rotunda (where subfloor 3 opens up).

“I don’t know why but I just knew it was him,” she said.

So, if you find yourself studying down in the library late at night and perhaps see an older man wandering near the rotunda, there is a bust of Cardinal Hayes located on the second floor for reference.