In the words of my colleague Lisa Vecoli, you know the lesson is off to a scary start when there is mention of the dead man's switch. There are reasons I chose to be an archivist and not a police officer, and discussion of a dead man's anything is very much one of those reasons.
Thus began two afternoons of training in order to drive one of the stock pickers that roam the caverns of Elmer L. Andersen Library. Underneath the Andersen Library, carved 82 feet down into the bluffs of the Mississippi River, are two caverns where the Department of Archives and Special Collections as well as the Minnesota Library Access Center store their treasures of books and archives. Each of the two caverns measures 680 feet long, 65 feet wide, and 23 feet high. It is because of that 23 feet of height that Lisa and I were attending training--because even with a ladder those highest shelves remain unreachable without the aid of a stock picker.
The two stock pickers in the caverns (aptly nicknamed Isis and Osiris after the ancient Egyptian mythological gods of the underworld) operate as fork lifts with a table attached to the forks, allowing for archives boxes to be placed upon retrieval. The dead man's switch, as we learned from our instructor Tim McCluske who works with MINITEX, is a foot pedal that acts as a fail-safe, bringing the machine to an abrupt stop should an emergency arise. The stock picker weighs nearly three times more than a car and proved to be powerful and intimidating. Having just moved to Minnesota from New York City, I have spent the past five years not driving a car let alone heavy machinery, and now here I was standing in the carriage of a massive machine attempting to learn the sharp pivot point so as not to run into shelving or walls.