The Office of Telecom and Myth Information

By Edo Steinberg

Moira and the jackalope in an official IU photo.

Moira and the jackalope in an official IU photo.

“I have what I think of as the interesting end of the social sciences,” says Moira Marsh, the subject librarian Telecom shares with anthropology, sociology, social work, folklore and comparative literature. “My colleague, who is just starting, gets the dismal end of the social sciences.” To avoid getting angry e-mails from other departments, I’ll refrain from detailing which fields are in that category.

Not enough graduate students, or even faculty members, are aware of the resources we have available to us in the library. While we were talking, someone walked in to her office in the east tower of the library with a book Moira had ordered. “This is one of the things I do. I got a call from a professor yesterday. He had put this book on reserve for his class. We had it as an e-book, with multiple user access. He assigned it for next week, and sometime between when he assigned it and when it was due, the publishers, or somebody, changed their minds about the access of this book, so it’s no longer available for multiple user access, so the students weren’t able to get into it.” The solution was to rush an order of another print copy, which can actually arrive faster than an e-book copy.

Often, when people come to Moira for help, the only search engines they’ve used are Google Scholar and JSTOR. “There are a ton of other resources that we have – indexes and databases – which are not accessible via Google, which apparently a majority of people don’t know about. One of the first things I do is point people to specific resources. People are often just amazed.”

As part of Moira’s job, she lectures at departments’ weekly seminars about the resources available at the library. “I’ll often hold class here at the library or go to wherever the class is. I find that once people know they have a subject librarian, they will come and find me when they need help.”

"Office of Myth Information" - sign at entrance to Moira's office.

“Office of Myth Information” – sign at entrance to Moira’s office.

Moira has a Ph.D. in folklore from Indiana University, which is probably the best folklore program in the world, and researches practical jokes. She has her own jackalope named Boris. “He’s very special,” she says. “He’s a flying jackalope, which is particularly rare. You don’t often see them full-body.”

If you’re not sure what a jackalope is, Moira explains. “It’s a mythical animal. It’s done as a joke by people out west, particularly in Wyoming. In other parts of the world they have similar mythical animals that are used in the same way. They would tell newcomers who had never been out west about this very peculiar animal that’s only found out here. It’s a cross between an antelope and a jackrabbit. Sometimes it turns into a hazing ritual.”

“This is similar to a snipe hunt,” Moira says. “It’s something kids at summer camp or the Boy Scouts might get into. You have a group of people who are out in the wild in an unfamiliar setting, and the old hands would ask them, ‘have you ever been on a snipe hunt?’” While there are various explanations as to what a snipe is, they are always described as nocturnal. “You need one person with a big sack who is going to wait at a predetermined spot, and everyone else is supposed to go out and beat the bushes, to drive the snipe towards the guy who’s holding the bag. The dupe is the one left holding the bag, and everyone else just disappears and goes back to camp.”

The jackalope in its natural habitat - Moira's office.

The jackalope in its natural habitat – Moira’s office.

According to Moira, practical jokes raise interesting questions for scholars of humor. “It’s always a question whether it is just a joke or not, or whether it goes too far. Seeing how people negotiate that is very interesting,” she says. “Every situation is different. People don’t always submit to this kind of treatment and sometimes they do. How they determine which way to go is an interesting question. What kind of factors make the difference between a person going along with the joke versus someone who objects.”

Some mythical creatures do not fit in the practical joke category, nor would they be called hoaxes. “As folklorists, we would call Yetis and Bigfoots legendary creatures. They are topics of legend – legends simply being narratives told for true or possibly true, but which are on the margins between true and untrue, and therefore always arouse debate.” Such creatures will forever be debated and it will never end. Things like the jackalope and other comic legends, on the other hand, are known not to be real.

One thing isn’t a legend – if you need help with library resources, the best way to contact Moira is via e-mail at You can also drop by Room E760, and see if she’s in.

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