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Swing Your "Cartner" – Library Book Cart Brigade Touts Services

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
September 29, 2010

Wild Cart dancers perform during University Day. Mike Ross, Photographic Services.

Like so many borrowed ideas, the notion of the Dimond Library having a book cart precision drill team took on a life of its own once the wheels started turning. (Wheels turning. Get it? The book carts have wheels.)

There are better puns to come out of the group that began with exploring the national craze of public performances by library book cart drill teams, and morphed into a form of “contra carting.” That’s contra dancing with library book carts. Decorated carts swung and caught and do-si-doed  by employees of the UNH library.

Jeannie Putnam, library services supervisor, got the ball rolling during the spring of 2009 at the suggestion of work-study student Emily Lusenhop, who had heard about library cart drill teams on NPR and wondered if this was something Dimond Library could do. A meeting was held; ideas flew.

And while the performances are fun, behind the maneuvers is the opportunity to promote the library in a new way.

“We said, ‘let’s not be any old drill team. We’ve got the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Music and Dance; why not feature that?’ So, we decided on a contra dance team,” says Thelma Thompson, government documents librarian.

Putnam found a book on drill maneuvers and checked online sites to see how they had carts moving. Library workers Kathy Horrigan and Liz Fowler joined Putnam and Thompson for the first practice. They each took a cart and tried a combination of steps, learning as they went what they could and couldn’t do.

“We worked with and without the carts so we could get a sense of movement,” Fowler says. “We walked through things and found out what would work.”

Says Putnam, “The really nice thing about contra dancing is it repeats over and over so by the second or third time, you say, ‘Oh, I’ve got this.’”

After that first practice, Thompson composed two dances, the “Cart Reel” and “Starring All Carts.” The group selected “Cart Reels” as the routine to debut. The Wild Carts set their sights on two events: University Day 2009 and the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, held every January and named for the man credited with the preservation of traditional dance in New England.

“The Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend was our real debut; University Day was the warm up,” Fowler says.

The team practiced during the summer of 2009. As University Day approached, Putnam bought fabric and sewed skirts for the carts. ‘Cartners’ wore matching sashes. They decided to use the tops of the book carts to promote Dimond’s various services such as the map collection, government documents, the children’s collection, printing and Wi-Fi.

“It went pretty well,” Putnam says of the Wild Cart’s University Day performance. “People seemed a little bewildered but enjoyed it.”

For the Ralph Page Dance weekend, Fowler recruited her sister, Chrissy Fowler, who is a contra caller, to lead them. 

“She was able to call like it was a real contra dance,” Thompson says.

The Wild Carts performed again at this year’s University Day, and are looking forward to learning a second dance. They welcome new members to the team.

“It’s so much fun and it’s a great opportunity to promote the library in a new way,” Putnam says.

Other cart dancers include Cindy Hunt, Judy Quist, Heather Burroughs, Kathy Letellier, Peggy Barry, Dale Valena and Nikki Hentz.


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