The Waidner-Spahr library is the hub of campus in more ways than one. Its behemoth size and central location on campus make it hard to ignore, but it also serves as a space the facilitate the two predominant aspects of social life – socializing and studying. During orientation, the library had an earnest energy – first year students sat at computers or in arm chairs completing work for their seminars, relishing their first late-night college coffee from the bibliocafe. Many worked in groups, sacrificing the efficiency of solitary work for the comfort found in numbers in these early days. Library staff prepared for the rest of the student body to descend upon campus, ironing out technological kinks with the printers and setting up book displays in the lobby.
When classes started, the energy of the library transitioned into a quiet, purposeful bustle. The earnestness of the first years has been replaced by the experience of upperclassmen, who do not wander looking for a familiar face or peek down hallways looking for a secluded space to study. They already know the quietest study corners or the spaces with the best light for reading, and head right to their favorite spots upon entering the main doors. Some areas buzz with socializing, but most students work by themselves, comfortable with being alone in a way that younger students are not.
I feel at ease in the library. It is a place that fosters focus; a place where it is okay to be alone, where the need for silence is understood and shared by others.
The air felt as if it was not fresh, but rather someone else’s stale exhalations—someone who had studied here, and known people here, and been comfortable here. Here was the library, the massive belly of a campus that I could hardly navigate.
And so we sat down, the cold, dead air chafing against us as we tried to focus on our homework. There is a line in “Ulysses” by Lord Tennyson that refers to Ithaca as a “still hearth”. Well, here we were, on the hearth that was dearly meant to be lit, and it felt as if at any moment, someone was going to come in, light the fire, and send us running–screaming–out.
I walked back into the library yesterday after my first class, expecting the same cadaverous, unwelcome silence. But rather, people sat everywhere; pages turned in comfy chairs, keyboards typed, and laughter echoed out across the floor.
And, as it happens, I’m sitting in the library now. I am no longer the Outsider that I felt I was on the first day, inhaling someone else’s stale breath; I am inhaling and exhaling—not a visitor to, but a member of, the library.