O-Issue 2012: Libraries

For the studious, the curious, and those who have miles (and three essays) to go before they sleep.

By Alice Bucknell

The list of available study spaces around the U of C’s campus appears limitless and is constantly changing—from students heading high up into the trees on the main quad on warmer days, to snuggling up next to the Smart collection’s famed Rothko piece while hammering out a paper during finals week’s “Study at the Smart” event. There exists, however, a handful of official libraries on campus, ideal for those days when you just want to sit in a chair and read for class, or check out a book, or something normal like that.

The Joseph Regenstein Library is without a doubt the largest and most popular study spot on campus; it houses the greatest number of print volumes (over 4.5 million) in countless fields ranging from apocalyptic art to business studies. Designed in the oh-so-appropriately named Brutalist style of architecture, the gray-washed Regenstein—located on East 57th Street, due north of Hull Gate—is a sight for sore eyes (or a sore sight for the eyes, depending on your perspective) that is never difficult to locate even under feet of snow. Due to its block-like façade, the Regenstein is frequently likened to a row of stacked books, spines facing outward.

If the gruff exterior doesn’t scare you off, enter along either the south or east side of the building to explore seven stories worth of library happenings. The ground floor is the most spacious, with a steady flow of students moving in and out of the building. Those who study on the first floor tacitly acknowledge that they are more than willing to take a break from their work to chat. The newly renovated Ex Libris café boasts long hours and adds another delicious dimension to this library’s social scene, providing a place to caffeinate yourself, people-watch, and study all in one sitting. The higher up you venture in the library’s five above-ground floors, the quieter and more studious the atmosphere becomes. The North-facing floor-to-ceiling windows on the top floor allow for a pretty remarkable glimpse of downtown in miniature on cloudless days. Most of the second to fifth floors are consumed by the infamous bookstacks, home to literally millions of books in print and serving as the favorite study spot of the U of C’s most masochistic students. Venture beneath the ground floor to the A-level and B-level, which, respectively, lead to a group-study area and something close to solitary confinement. (Pro tip: There is never any reason for you to linger in the B-level. Ever.)

Recipient of numerous architecture awards, the glass-dome structure attached to the Regenstein is the Mansueto Library; completed in mid-2011, it is (save for the Logan Center) the University’s newest building. Lovingly compared to everything from a fish tank, a reverse snowglobe in the winter (what does that analogy make us, then?), and half of an egg, the Mansweato/Reg Egg/other-nicknames-pending is rarely referred to as simply what it is: a very sunny, very spacious reading room that sure is pretty when it rains. Sneeze or scuff your feet while searching for an available study spot (given the popularity of the place, it’s a lot harder than it sounds) and receive death glares. On particularly cloudless days, sunburns are a very real threat for the more sensitive students.

Other than the Reg, Crerar—located just a block down the other side of South Ellis Avenue, in the heart of the west quadrangle—serves as the main library on campus, with about a million and a half print volumes that tend towards topics in science, medicine, and technology. Inevitably, one of the non-science books that you really want to check out will inexplicably be located here, and if that’s not enough to lure all you prospective humanities majors, then the facilities might be. It’s much quieter than the Reg and thanks to all those med students who use it as a second home, Crerar exhibits a higher degree of “studiousness” (i.e. you will be judged if caught on Facebook or Tumblr), making it a great study spot for when you’re really behind on work and really, truly can’t afford to slack off any more.

The super swanky D’Angelo Law Library just south of the Midway has much the same vibe as Crerar: a spacious, tranquil study spot which, due to the high graduate student concentration, is a great place to go to when you really have to buckle down on your work. Renovated in 2006, the Law Library boasts gorgeous minimalist art and architecture—from its glassy, monochromatic design to the Laird Bell quadrangle fountain outside (be sure to catch a glimpse of the building reflected in the still water at either dawn or dusk, an eerie but beautiful optical delight)—that certainly make light the burden of work. Take the elegant glass, steel, and mahogany staircase up to the second floor reading room or pull up a brightly colored chair crafted by famed architect/industrial designer Eero Saarinen (Gateway Arch in St. Louis) for a contemplative view over the law quads to serve as a good backdrop to your Marx reading (though I can make little guarantee that it won’t be something of a distraction). Remember to bring your student ID to sign in at night and practice courtesy while treading on law student turf; otherwise, this beautiful study spot is yours for the taking.

The library inside the School of Social Service Administration, just a block away from the Law Library, has similar resources: Most of its books are used by graduate students, although you may have some luck finding a coursebook here if it’s checked out at the Reg. Small and cozy, it’s a bit more of a challenge to blend into the graduate student groove—so long as you’re well-behaved, you’ll be fine.

If you’re into bookless libraries, Harper Reading Room is one of the most popular spaces on campus. Its high-arched ceiling, lamp-lit tables, and spacious interior make for the perfect study spot, and those chairs lining either side are often filled with dozing (and drooling) students.

And last but certainly not least (especially for the more math-oriented among us) is Eckhart Library, found inside Eckhart Hall. With its long wooden desks, floors, and chairs, it’s the polar opposite to the ultra-modern Mansueto or Law Libraries. On the ground floor you will find ample space to read; take the small staircase or have a snoop around the back of the room in amongst the bookcases to find any and every math text you will ever need, ever.

Whatever the situation, whatever the subject, rest assured that you will always have enough study spots here at the U of C. And if that same old desk in Crerar or among the bookstacks grows dull, as it inevitably will, don’t hesitate to do some good old-fashioned exploring to uncover some new study spot that is totally of your own creation. Both the Classics building and Eckhart Hall have some pretty cool spaces, but you didn’t hear it from me.