Peep Research: A Study of Small, Fluffy Creatures and Library Usage
by Susan Avery and Jennifer Masciadrelli (Office of Fluffy Research, Staley Library, Millikin University)
Peeple's Choice Winner! Faculty Peep Show, Kirkland Fine Arts Center, Millikin University
April 25, 2003
Although scientific and health research has been conducted on Peeps, most notably that appearing on the Peep Research website, we have noted an absence of research focusing on the ability of Peeps themselves to actually do research. To address this lack, we invited a small group of Peeps to visit Staley Library at Millikin University during the week of March 17-21, 2003 so that we could more closely observe their research practices. This was determined to be an ideal week for the Peeps to visit the library, as Millikin University students were on spring break. The research that follows documents their visit to the library and provides some evaluative commentary on our assessment of Peeps and library usage.
The Peeps Arrive at the Library
The Peeps arrived at the library in a customary manner, as evidenced by the photographs to the left, in a Volkswagen Beetle. It should also be noted that, not unlike college students, they attempted to fit as many passengers into their vehicle as possible.
We quickly observed that Peeps, like college students, immediately began their research by sitting down at the computer terminals and looking for information on the Internet. Our observations of their individual screens indicated that they were most likely looking for information about themselves. This research characteristic was noted in an article that appeared in the March 21, 2003 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education that discussed the tendencies of students to use search engines before library databases.
The first page we observed the Peeps looking at was the official website of marshmallow peeps. We speculate that this page was located via a search engine, as our attempts to replicate this search in several search engines resulted in this page appearing at the top of the hit list of websites.
It is not known what the search terms were in this particular search, nor what they expected to find. (This page contains art work featuring canines.) Note, however, how they are all attempting to move closer to the computer screen.
This particular search resulted in a page that surprised both the Peeps and their observers. The focus of the content of the page, Visual Delights: Magic Lanterns, Peep Shows and Phantasmagoria, is unknown.
Once again the similarity of Peeps and college students is observed in the excessive printing that is evident in the above photograph. Like students, the Peeps have failed to used the Print Preview command before printing pages from an obviously large website.
Advanced Research Skills
The next behaviors that we observed in the Peeps were quite surprising to us. Following their initial searches on the Internet we observed the Peeps engaging in more advanced research behaviors including consulting the Library of Congress Subject Headings, using the Oxford English Dictionary, and consulting with a librarian. Further, after the consultation with a librarian they gathered as a group to discuss their research. This is similar to behaviors we have observed in some of the more motivated college students.
A pair of Peeps is observed using the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). Note that the term "peep" is not included as a subject heading.
Following their unsuccessful attempt to locate "peep" in the LCSH, this pair of Peeps does experience success in locating information about the etymology of the term in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Seeking research assistance
In the photograph above, a small group of Peeps is observed asking a Research Librarian for assistance in determining whether a periodical is scholarly in nature.
The web page the Peeps were instructed to consult is shown above. This page provides assistance in determining the type of a given periodical.
As has been observed in college students, the Peeps also appear to favor working on collaborative, or group, projects. We observed them meeting as a group in an area of the library designated for such purposes.
Peeps and Library Behavior
Are Peeps aware of appropriate behavior in a library setting? During the course of the day we observed them engaging in both appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
Food: The photograph above illustrates that Peeps are just as likely to eat snacks in the library as are college students. It should also be noted that the Peeps attempted to finish their candy as quickly as possible when they became aware of the presence of library staff in the area.
The photographs below illustrates the lack of understanding Peeps have for the purpose of a photocopy machine. In the photo on the left the peeps appear to be enjoying the warmth of the photo element on their bottom sides. This experience led to an unfortunate incident in which the top of the photocopier fell on the Peeps resulting in some injury, as can be noted in the photograph on the right.
Once again we observed behavior in Peeps similar to that exhibited by college students in the library. One of our Circulation Associates heard some questionable sounds coming from the fourth floor. Upon further examination she found two pairs of the Peeps engaged in inappropriate behavior, as evidenced in the photographs below.
The inappropriate behaviors exhibited by the Peeps, as illustrated above, resulted in a visit with University Librarian Karin Borei. In the photograph below, the Peeps can be observed listening to a stern lecture on library behavior by the director.
The Peeps appeared to select the remaining crab apples on the trees immediately outside the library for their lunch. This decision was most likely based on the observation of the cedar waxwings upon their entry to the building. Note, however, the unfortunate incident in the photo on the right when one of the hungry Peeps fell to his death.
Not all of the behavior evidenced by the Peeps was of an inappropriate nature. All in all, we were very pleased with the personal hygiene the Peeps exhibited during the course of the day.
In the above photograph a Peep is observed asking a student assistant for directions to the rest room.
In this photograph one of the Peeps can be observed using the rest room facilities.
The personal hygiene of the Peeps is exhibited above as one of the peeps uses the sink.
The Feasibility of Peeps and Library Usage
Given some of the above occurrences, we began to ask the question: Should Peeps be permitted to engage in library research? Given their small size and rather fluffy skeletal structure, we asked the Peeps to engage in specific library behaviors. The results of these are available below.
Microfilm usage: The Peeps first attempt to use microfilm was not successful, as shown on the above, left. Although a student assistant did load the microfilm for them, the Peeps experienced extreme difficulty controlling the forward/reverse knob while attempting to read the screen.
Retrieving books from shelves: Our observations indicated that it was virtually impossible for Peeps to remove items from the upper shelves of the library stacks. One unfortunate incident is illustrated in the above photograph.
Laptop usage: As exhibited in the photograph to the right, it is clearly difficult for the Peeps to check out and use the laptops the library has available. Despite the best attempts on the part of the Peeps, it was necessary for an assistant to both bring the laptop to the table and prepare it for the Peep's use.
Paper cutters: Even with the assistance of a group of her peers, one of the Peeps met an unfortunate demise while attempting to use the paper cutter.
Completing the Research Activity
The conclusion of the Peeps' library visit was rather routine (when compared to the rest of their day) as they proceeded to check out books. Their exit from the library was uneventful.
The Peeps wait patiently in line for a peep assistant to check out the items they have selected. On the right one of the Peeps displays its Millikin ID as it reaches the check-out station.
The Peeps begin their exit from the library in an orderly manner through the exit gate.
The Peeps complete their exit from the library, and can be seen heading down the sidewalk toward their vehicle in the parking lot.
Not all of the hazards the Peeps experienced in the library were of their own doing. It should be noted that one of the library staff was a particular menace to the Peeps throughout their visit. Two incidents involving this employee are noted in the above photographs.
About this project
This page was created for an exhibit in the "Faculty Peep Show" on display at the Perkinson Gallery, Kirkland Fine Arts Center, Millikin University from April 11-25, 2003. The show was organized to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of marshmallow peeps. Criteria for the show included the incorporation of peeps into a work related to your discipline. Thus the birth of Peep Research: A study of small fluffy creatures and library usage. Contact us with comments.
A Collection of Responses from Your E-mails
A sincere thank you to all of you have sent us messages indicating how much you have enjoyed our page. We have been overwhelmed with its popularity and how quickly it has spread. Many of you claim to have needed the comic relief at the end of a long semester and others claimed to have caused quite a ruckus in the library laughing out loud. We are glad we were able to put a smile on your faces!
We share below excerpts of some of the messages we have received indicating the far-reaching effects of the little marshmallow peep! To the numerous responders among you who noted (with tongue in cheek?) that we had too much time on our hands we simply must state, as any librarian knows, that is not the case! The end product took several weeks of a few minutes here and there, although we must add it did provide us with much needed comic relief at the end of a long academic year.
We must also acknowledge our University Librarian Karin Borei for her support of our ongoing "research" and the staff and students here who either assisted us or allowed their photographs to be included.
- Thanks again from the Office of Fluffy Research!
Many of you noticed the similarities between Peeps, your libraries and your students:
"Loved it! Nice to know that students (even Peep students) are all not that different across the US."
"Our High School students print just like your college ones."
"I swear I could have written that script, especially the parts about using search engines before the databases and not doing print preview and wasting so much paper. "
from a middle school in Texas:
"College students are not the only ones who behave that way in the library."
"I work with teens in a public library and I've had EXACTLY the same behavior from middle school teens as with peeps in your study."
"It is amazing how much 5th graders doing research and college students have in common with your peeps!"
"I should also like to point out that high school students conduct research in EXACTLY the same manner as college students! they also like to snack and drink in the library. However, so far the "inappropriate behavior" illustrated in your page has not occurred in the library -- only in bathrooms and stairways!"
"The comparison of Peep researchers to College-age students only proves that some students never change their study habits from elementary school! "
from New Jersey:
"I notice that your Peeps, like our students, arrive with food but no paper or pencils."
"I found their behavior does indeed have several similarities to students, scholars and in fact several staff members at our library also."
"I work in a K-12 school library and can relate to some of the student research skills."
"It's amazing how every library has the same problems with copiers, computers, etc."
from New York:
"I particularly appreciated their difficulty with microfilm--not so different from that of a number of human students, in my experience."
"I love how they did everything human students would do. Is a peep a toy, or a food item, or what? We don't have them here."
"Boy, seems like library experiences are the same everywhere, even in different countries. "
from New Jersey:
"There is excessive printing and inappropriate behavior in our public library as well."
Some of your comments defy being categorized:
from Washington D.C.
"Brilliant. There is an underground contingent on Capitol Hill of Peep affecionados (refuse to eat them--not just because they taste fowl but, as continued research shows, they are a unique form of intelligence). Many a long night has been spent in DC on debate on just how smart are these multi-hued creatures. Your impeccable work on this Peep's at Research site contributes greatly to the body of knowledge we now have available to us. A greatful nation thanks you."
"My preferred way to eat them, (yes, I actually do like them) is to "age" them for about a year. Last week I ate some that I think are at least 2 years old. They really snap when you break them apart."
"You people are LIBRARY GODS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
"It is gratifying to see that the superior research skills of peeps are finally being recognized and documented by the academic community. We have long awaited this study."
"Indeed, this was not a poultry effort, nor was it cheeply done. You are to be commended for eliminating any unnecessary fluff and should feel proud enough to crow about it."
"This is the kind of quirky librarianship that we should all pursue!"
from the Library of Congress:
"It's been circulating around the LC; we are all of course quite impressed with the Peeps' usage of the LCSH."
"Very, very funny. Very sick, too."
"We loved your peeps show - it was the funniest thing we had seen in a long time. There needs to be more humor in libraries." We received more than one comment that there needs to be more humor in libraries. Why isn't there??
"I am glad to see that Peeps exhibit a few information competencies, although I am sorry that they still do display some inappropriate behaviors."
from New Orleans:
"I loved your peep show but I was appalled at the number of peep casualties in your libraries. I also noticed the peep bathroom was not ADA compliant."
"My entire professional staff stopped working for a good 15 minutes today to enjoy your marvelous website. We chortled for the better part of the afternoon as we met one another in the aisles of the library or in the tech services area recalling portions of the peeps in the library website."
from Washington D.C.:
"Whether intended or not, it also put Millikin University in the minds of parents of several kids approaching college age. While I would not want to interject any utilitarian motivation into your effort, the work may well have that effect."
"I love your sense of humor.....amazing how library culture is the same wherever you are at.....the only thing missing was the homeless peeps, but maybe a college library doesn't have many homeless users."
"Wonderful site. Makes me proud to be a librarian."
"During these "serious" times, your creative efforts have given me a much-needed giant, face hurt, bellyache laugh!"
"It's heartening to see that, despite significant danger to themselves, peeps still value the research library and the opportunities it affords."
Some of your favorite peep shots were:
"The small details in this were so neat, like the Peep's picture on the ID card!"
"I especially liked the failure to use print preview and the paper cutter."
from New Haven, CT:
"I particularly like the unfortunate incident at the photocopier. :)"
"I'm so glad I didn't have a mouthful of diet pepsi for the copier photo! "
from West Virginia:
"I particularly enjoyed the expression on the face of the librarian who observed two peeps engaged in inappropriate library behavior!"
from Rhode Island:
"Especially liked the bit about the paper cutter."
"I particularly like the books coming off the shelf and the paper cutter."
"While undoubtedly uncomfortable for the Peeps, the library director admonishing the Peeps was my favorite photo."
"The copier scene and paper cutter scene both brought tears to my eyes (of laughter.....!)"
"I thought Peeps learning the difference between scholarly periodical and magazine was funny, but not as good as Peeps on the photocopy machine and Peeps coupling up in the library, followed by a stern lecture."
"It was the sight of the Peeps Researchers eating M&M's that got me to laugh out loud."
We were pleased so many of you thought this looked like a nice place to work. (It is!)
"If you all ever have an opening for a Library Automation Systems person, please let me know."
"I'm going to watch for anything else opening up at your library-y'all seem like a really fun bunch!"
"You must have an exceptional work environment that realizes that creativity on the job can take many shapes - even peep-shape. We're way too stuffy here at (name deleted)!"
"You Peeple are geniuses! I wish I worked in your library."
"This is just hysterical. May I come work with you all?"
"Can I come work at your library? You seem like very fun people!"
Many of you indicated you found the site on a list serv:
"I am teaching an online class in management of school library media centers and our discussion this week is on technology. One of my students posted the link to your site for all of us to enjoy."
"What a treat to find a local site mentioned on LM_NET."
"Outstanding! I just posted it to LISNews"
"I found out about it through an inadvertent post on a mailing list for figure skating fans, of all things...one librarian was e-mailing another about it, and accidentally sent her message to the list rather than to the librarian."
"I was directed to your study page by a colleague on the off-topic e-mail list (aka CEL-O) associated with Copyediting-L"
"I subscribe to the Digital Reference Listserv and the "peep research" web page was sent to the listserv."
"I connected to your Peep page after finding the URL on the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Library and Information Science listserv."
And we received the following chastisements:
"I must admit that, in my role as the archivist here, I am somewhat upset by seeing their little sugared nether-parts placed directly on books, but since it's in the name of art, it's OK. "
"It may have been inappropriate to actually show a peep using the bathroom facilities. A little privacy please."
"I'm amazed that librarians would actually melt peeps on top of a photocopy machine - very unlibrary-like behaviour." Researchers note: We didn't melt them, they were merely squashed and placed on the photocopier.
"I must strongly deplore your institution's permitting such dangerous implements as a paper cutter and large, heavy tomes in a facility that clearly anticipates visits from small, squishy patrons. And while including furniture that accommodates diminutive marshmallow shapes is clearly very forward thinking, I was quite sorry to see that the toilet and sink facilities are apparently not connected to actual running water."
"But we want to know, did you use a spy web-cam to get the bathroom shots, or did the Peep give her permission to be photographed in such a compromising position?"
"It saddens us, however, that library research for Peeps includes a relatively high mortality rate. Still, with the information you shared, perhaps all of us can increase our efforts to make our libraries, collections, and resources more Peep accessible."
AND the following was sent to a particular, unnamed staff member here from Canada:
I was most distressed by your inappropriate behavior during the recent Peeps visit to your library. Sir, can you not imagine the far reaching ramifications on the worldwide Peeps population??? Because you can not but be aware of the tender feelings of those gentle creatures? In this time of world-wide violence, is there no sanctuary for them??? Please kindly desist from terrorizing any more Peeps, for when one Peep trembles, all Peeps quiver."