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Greening Up the House

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Matt Siemon '18 (bottom) and one of the plants—a thriving bromeliad—spotlighted in his interpretive display at Mann Library.

With the Cornell campus landscape settling quickly into a (rather early!) winter white during these late fall weeks, we find our thoughts turning to greenery— indoor greenery that is. When earlier this year we asked patrons to let us know what they like about Mann Library, among the most frequent responses we received were: Mann's books & databases, our helpful staff, our labor-saving info tech, and . . . our plants. Yes, that's right: Along with books and data, computers, printers and study nooks, Mann Library features an extensive plant collection. And apparently that leafy collection has a draw of its very own among library lovers on the Cornell campus. 

There are a number of good reasons why our indoor greenery deserves its popularity. For one, potted plants not only lend an element of crisp outdoor freshness to any space they occupy, they also give a boost to the air we breathe by filtering out harmful chemicals, releasing water vapor, and enriching it with oxygen. And over recent years, there's been quite a bit of research (some conducted right here at Cornell) that also suggests the mental health benefits of indoor plants in the way of reduced anxiety, greater sense of well-being, heightened attentiveness, and sharper focus. All particularly good things for a university crowd in need of thought-nurturing work space. 

Visitors to Mann over the past several months will also have noticed another reason to appreciate our green collection: We've recently upped the ante on its intellectually stimulating effects through a new interpretive dimension that provides detail on the botany and history behind some of the collection’s specimens. This display is the work of a recent student intern, Matthew Siemon (SIPS 2018) who spent a year at Mann Library stewarding the health of the plant collection while also researching some of its natural history So, if you’ve ever found your study sessions in the library interrupted by wandering (and ultimately mind-refreshing) thoughts like: “What is an octopus plant?” or “Is this thing related to a pineapple?,” please know that Matt has provided you some answers. Look for the orange plaques attached to some of the charismatic greens around the library, and you’ll be impressed not only with the interesting information and very nice prose, but also by the lovely artwork—created by Matt’s own hand—that distinguishes each plaque.

None of the plants in Mann’s collection are native to libraries, of course, and it’s sometimes a bit of a challenge to make sure our indoor conditions meet the habitat requirements of the different species in our indoor line-up. But with the help of student interns like Matt and some dedicated plant care aficionados on the Mann staff, our aim is to keep a thriving plant collection that cultivates a sense of well-being along with some active curiosity about the intriguing bit of biodiversity to be found right here in the Library. And with that we also hope to give the hard-working students we see at Mann everyday yet one more way to get the most out of their library experience during their years at Cornell.