Love and the Library: A Post–Valentine’s Day Retrospective

Whether you’re a love skeptic, lovesick, or a die-hard romantic, consider the library another source for you to reconnect with yourself and others.

By Rachel Ong

Valentine’s Day at the University of Chicago is, more often than not, a bleak affair. It’s cold, gray, and probably snowing. This year, though—a month or two out from February—it’s more apparent to me than ever that there’s one true commitment that UChicago students never fail to return to: the library.

The library is the sacred microcosm of UChicago. Despite the drone of artificial lighting and relentlessly bureaucratic atmosphere characteristic of nearly every library on campus, they’re vibrant spaces where we study, sleep, and (occasionally) eat. While some swear by studying in the comfort of their dorm room or apartment, working at the library is central to the UChicago experience.

Library culture is the beating heart of this university. For those unfamiliar with the libraries at UChicago, I’ll provide a quick rundown: We have the Reg, the beloved brutalist building tucked in the middle of campus. We have its contact-lens-egg sister, Mansueto, the place you go to if you want to study while experiencing the burning rush of feeling perceived (or, alternatively, if you just want a bit of Vitamin D to make your study session a tad less miserable). We have Harper and all of its Oxford-esque glory. It has the comfiest chairs for taking a brief—or not so brief—mid-day nap. And finally, we have Crerar, a surprisingly under-visited (and highly underrated) library where you can pretend to be a STEM major for a day. Each library has its niche, and sampling different library cultures can make your monotonous study routine more interesting.

Besides, where else will you bump into the various characters of UChicago? Your class acquaintances, your ex-O-week friends, that one person you went to high school with, your P-set partners, frat bros, econ bros, and all the other bros—in the penumbras of social life, we convene at the library. It’s a place where history is washed away—a place where we’re not just a cog in some unfathomably large machine, but a unit of collective belonging. If you’re craving love, look no further: the library is the place for you.

During exam season, the library becomes more than just a place for studying. By the time your fifth hour at the Reg rolls around, the frayed nerves and empty Ex Lib cups feel commonplace. If you stay long enough, a despondent calm falls over the rows of the Mansueto masses and the sprawled A-level tables. You either leave the library sanguine and unflinching, or you leave it a shell of yourself.

But no matter! Regardless of what state you are in when you leave the library—disheveled, vainglorious, or strangely tranquil—the library reaffirms something that we all seek: the capacity for love and for belonging. It is a visible space for students to come together.

We enter this place as first-years still struck by the novelty of university life, where the library really just is a library. But if you’re a jaded third-year like me, the library may have a different meaning to you.

Perhaps the gloss of academia may have lost its luster. Or, perhaps, the copious, unrelenting schoolwork that is so characteristic of this school has grown on you over time. For me, the library is a place to reconvene at the end of the day. I still walk through the doors knowing there is a never-ending to-do list to complete. But no matter which stage of your UChicago experience you find yourself in, library culture always lends open arms, warmth, and even an overpriced latte a hop and a skip away. This year, and every year hereafter, the library—and other beloved spots on campus—can serve as a Valentine of your own. It’s a place to remember, to transcend, and to love.

Rachel Ong is a third-year in the College.