Gotham Gothic

The library's annual party turns super.

By day, it’s a mild-mannered library, filled with studious but zombie-eyed denizens who prowl its stacks in strict silence. But on one night in late February, Perkins Library rolled out its secret identity.

Students, staff members, and professors—some in cocktail attire, many in superhero costumes—roamed the halls. Von der Heyden Pavilion became Gotham City, with cocktails and a professional jazz band. The library’s Link transformed into an underground electronic music club, full of anime and Japanese pop art. And in the basement, forgotten comic books that never quite made it to Superman prominence lined the stately stacks.

Few events on campus embody Duke’s “work hard, play hard” mantra quite like the annual Library Party. Though still a relatively new tradition, the event quickly has elevated the social clout of the library.

First conceived in 2007 to celebrate completion of the major stages of Perkins’ renovations, the party began in the wake of the lacrosse scandal, when some national news media portrayed Duke as having a raucous party scene. Rachel Weeks ’07, who spearheaded the inaugural party, says the organizers were frustrated with the image, and “we tried to promote real creativity with how Duke students socialized.”

It was an unusual experiment—to see whether the campus community could party together in a library as robust as Duke’s—that became an unexpected hit. “Never had I seen an event where all types of students and faculty were found in one place. Everyone was here, everyone had fun,” says George Grody ’81, professor of markets and management studies and faculty adviser for the Duke Marketing Club.

The Marketing Club has played a major role in planning the library party for the past two years. Like last year’s “Mad Men and Women” party—which capitalized on the hit TV show and resources from the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History—this year’s “Heroes and Villains” theme meshed pop culture with library materials. Items from the Edwin and Terry Murray Comic Book Collection were on display for the event, which was promoted by comic-book-style fliers and the sale of BAM! and POW! cookies at the von der Heyden café. “Our goal was to make the party as grand as possible,” explains junior Taylor Anne Potter, head of the party’s student executive board.

It may turn out to be a grand exit. Construction of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which begins this fall, may force the party on hiatus. But coordinators hope it will revive when the dust settles.

“I don’t know any other university that would allow its library to get shut down for a night to allow for such a party,” says Grody. “Once the renovation is finished, we really hope this can continue to be a Duke tradition."

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