December 3, 2002

Love for Harper Library

I experienced one of my most cherished memories of my time in the College so far during finals week of autumn quarter last year in Harper Library while studying Hegel. I was on the edge of falling into the same deep sleep that had overcome almost everyone around me, and the sun was finally coming up. The brooding gray stone was delicately caressed by the young, rose-fingered dawn, giving it a tinge of softness that this dark university rarely admits to.

In my Western Civ class, John Boyer mentioned that the Imperial library in Vienna, decorated with luxurious marble columns and various paintings, was a horrible place to study because one is distracted by the gorgeous surroundings. Much better to study in the Regenstein, he said. That has a ring of truth to it, but a few nights spent on the A-level are enough to give anyone a bout of depression.

Well-intentioned as the project to put a 24-hour study space there may have been, they could hardly have chosen a worse spot for it. The only windows face north, letting in little natural light, something the florescent tubes do not make up for. The group study cubicles are used just enough so that there is always a buzz of background conversations that is far more distracting than the hum of any ventilation system. Given that the library is fast running out of space, it would make far more sense to use the A-level for more compact shelving.

The last words on Goethe's lips were "more light," and--suprising as it may seem to those of us in the shadow of glass and steel--one distinct advantage Gothic architecture had over everything else that had come before it is precisely that it lets in more light. Harper Library has exceptionally large windows, and has such a large ratio of window area to floor area that it is certainly one of the most daylight-infused rooms in the city. The high vaulted ceilings make the space in the west reading room a coherent whole. There is an intangible sense of academic seriousness involved in the brooding gray stone, in the muffled echo of every pencil-eraser tap, that makes Harper the perfect place to study.

But what to do about Harper? Keeping the cubicles for tutors there is, in my opinion, a horrible idea. I hope that I've already demonstrated that cubicles with open tops are simply a bad idea in a library, and in Harper there is a violence done to the majestic space. Better by far to move the tutors to the second floor once the administration moves to the present business school buildings, using the reclaimed space to place more study tables. As far as better laptop accessibility in the library, I suggest that the whole library not be turned into a laptop-docking station. I happen to use a laptop myself, and find myself annoyed that there are only a few places in the library that I can plug in and network. Still, computers are inherently loud things--keyboards clack, and hard drives make an irritating noise. Power outlet access should not cover the entirety of the library, but more network access points should be put where there are power outlets.

Most importantly, though, the 24-hour study space should be moved from the Regenstein. In any case, Harper already has a reliable infrastructure for the prevention of book theft, having a detector gate at the exit door. Simply keeping open one door leading to Harper from the outside and moving the employee who watches the Regenstein A level overnight to Harper's front desk would be enough for the transition. Here, at least, is a plan to improve the quality of student life, that doesn't try to impose "fun" upon us.