The email came to my inbox at 9:21 AM on Monday, December 5th. “I’m thinking 100,000 will be tomorrow or Wednesday depending on how thirsty everyone is,” it said. “SO EXCITING!!!!” It was a message laden with promise, full of hope and all-caps-lock emotion. But it was the parenthetical postscript that told the real story.
“(I will be devastated if it happens after hours …)”
The “it” in question – the event for which the email writer was both excited and full of emotional uncertainty – was the 100,000th fill-up of a water bottle using Moody Memorial Library’s Garden Level EZH2O water refill station. And “it” had been the unique goal (some might go so far as to say a passion project) of Jennifer “Jenny” Bolech, Library Information Specialist IV in the Central Libraries’ Delivery Services unit.
Since the Garden Level location became one of the first stations installed on campus in 2013, Jenny has been making daily trips to the fountain; initially, it was the convenience and the speed of refilling her bottles at a blistering 1.5 gallons per minute (per the stats available by its manufacturer, Elkay). But over time, Jenny found another reason for regular visits: she wanted to be the one to see its digital counter click over to 100,000 and she had a good reason why.
She’d been number 50,000.
The Baylor University Libraries have been at the forefront of sustainability on campus for some time. Early in the tenure of recently-retired Dean of Libraries Pattie Orr, an opportunity arose for Baylor to create a position for a point person to head up campus sustainability projects. Dean Orr seized that opportunity and hired Smith Getterman, who serves to this day as Director of Sustainability and Special Projects for the university. Under Smith’s leadership, Baylor has made a name for itself in terms of environmental awareness, with campus-wide recycling bins, water bottle filling stations, a community garden and other initiatives catapulting Baylor into the top tier of environmentally conscious universities nationwide.
The libraries’ embrace of environmentalism includes being one of the first locations on campus to house the aforementioned recycling bins and water filling stations but also in its pursuit of recycling books that have been withdrawn from circulation and slated for disposal. This approach has saved an untold number of pounds of recyclable paper from area landfills.
The eco-friendly nature of the Moody bottle filling mission certainly has its appeal for Jenny, but that doesn’t fully explain its extent. For her, there was something more to it, something deeper behind the compulsion to make multiple daily trips to its shining metal facade. Maybe it was the appeal of a long-term personal goal to fill, a need to achieve something unique in the annals of the libraries. After all, being the one who crossed the 100,000 mark would only happen to one person – who wouldn’t want to be that person? Maybe it was the excitement of watching the station’s counter ticking up one number at a time, day after day. Some days, you’d catch it just right and your refill would count as the tail end of someone else’s refill AND yours, too, giving you a two-digit fill. Those were the good days. The days you knew you’d made a double difference.
Regardless of the nature of her inner drive, Jenny’s interest in being number 100k grew until everyone around her knew it as her singular non-work-related focus, her idee fixe.
And now, just hours away from seeing it through to completion, that fixation was at risk of becoming her bete noire.
As the counter ticked slowly upward on the early days of this week, Jenny knew she’d have an additional layer of challenges between herself and the 100,000th fill-up. And those challenges took the form of an unusually large number of students making their way to Moody Memorial Library – and Jesse H. Jones Library, and anywhere (frankly) with a flat surface, access to wireless Internet access and a power outlet. That’s because Monday was the last day of classes, and Tuesday and Wednesday were the university’s “study days” – days known in the dim and distant past as “dead days.” And Jenny knew that the study days would mean a significant increase in the number of students seeking out the warm embrace of Moody’s many public study areas … especially the Garden Level Study Commons, a mere wadded-up-ball-of-notebook-paper’s throw away from the refill station she visited every day.
How many more students are we talking about? I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves:
Yes, that’s more than 5,000 people coming into into the building each day starting on Monday, peaking at more than 6,000 on Thursday. And every one of those entries could be carrying a YETI tumbler, a Sip bottle, an RTIC bottle, a red Solo cup leftover from the night before, or – God forbid – a plastic gallon jug, as athletes on campus have taken to doing recently, often hanging them from lanyards around their necks in the ultimate display of both environmentally conscious recycling and peak physicality.
Jenny couldn’t compete with those numbers. She could only hope to get lucky.
When Jenny left work on the evening of December 5th, the counter stood at approximately 99,970. She knew the odds of only 29 people refilling their hydration devices in a 12+ hour span were minimal, so low as to be unthinkable. And so she resigned herself to missing her goal, to joining the countless millions of people throughout history who set out to catch lightning in a bottle only to find themselves left out in the cold, having come so close – so very close – to their dreams.
When December 6th arrived, Jenny saw the sad news for herself: the counter had passed 100,000 at some point in the night.
But sometimes, just when you think a dream is dead, help arrives from an unexpected source. Enter: the fine people of the Marketing & Communications group for ITS & Libraries … and a team of unknown heroes.
Knowing of Jenny’s quest to be number 100k – and hearing that she’d missed it by that much – I set out to uplift her spirits. Along with my talented colleague, designer/social media guru Carlye Thornton, we created what we hoped was a palliative for her wounded soul in the form of this certificate:
Thinking that the end of the matter, Carlye and I departed, leaving Jenny the proud owner of a certificate but not of the honor she’d sought so diligently since 2013 when the EZH2O made its debut. And there, we thought, the matter would end, drifting off into the shadowed halls of the past.
We were, as we often are, wrong.
Late on the afternoon of the 6th, I received a text from Jenny.
Intrigued but otherwise occupied, I thought the matter would rest until Thursday morning. Then she sent along a link to an item in Box. And the whole game changed.
Was this a taunt from someone who got to the filling station before Jenny? A cruel joke? An actual sentient, ambulatory, sweater-clad penguin with a thirst for water (and achievement)?
It turns out none of the above are true, because the truth was that a band of Jenny’s friends – including Kristi McCormick, Mike Thompson and others – who knew of Jenny’s obsession with 100k and saw a way to help their friend achieve glory, albeit in a secondhand fashion. So they borrowed the penguin from Jenny’s desk (it’s actually next to the Christmas tree that’s visible in the background above) and created the video as a way of making her a part of the 100,000 celebration, all while she innocently spent her evening away from work, at home, certain that she’d not be the one to see the fountain’s glorious turn from a five-digit number to six.
Today, Jenny told me she was surprised and very happy with the video and her role in it. (And from a marketing perspective, we’re glad someone was there to capture the importance of this moment in video form.) While she’s disappointed she didn’t get to be number 100,000, she’s happy it wasn’t bestowed upon someone who failed to grasp is importance, a random user fixated on their phone’s screen and not on the counter, who walked away from its significant milestone without registering the moment at all.
Jenny hopes to find another hydration-related goal to fill her time in the coming weeks. “Maybe I’ll find a dispenser in another building on campus and start walking there to fill up every day,” she said jokingly.
Or maybe she’s serious. After all, for someone who tasted the joy of being number 50,000 just a short year ago, and got tantalizingly close to 100,000 earlier this week, there’s every chance Jenny won’t be able to resist the siren song of the EZH2O for long. So if you notice a woman leaving Moody at regular intervals and making her way into the unknown, colorful water bottle in hand, only to return some time later with a full container and a satisfied smile, stop and marvel at the dedication of one woman who knows both the importance of environmental consciousness and personal achievement. Because you’ve just seen someone special.
You’ve seen the Water Warrior.
Special thanks to Jenny Bolech, Kristi McCormick, Carlye Thornton and everyone involved with this remarkable story for their contributions. The song featured in the 100,000 Bottles video is The Overachievers by Liars. Download it on iTunes here.