Why Not Review: Libraries

The Tab recommends where to get down and dirty, with a leaking ink pen and a pile of books.

Alex Wetten Art and Architecture Catz Edgware Emilie Ferris Fitzbillies Fitzwilliam College George Johnston history iPhone iPod King's law Ludwig Marc Shalet Matt Burns Max Levine Molly Gavriel Nicola Bartlett No Exit North London Oliver Kay Prince Philip Richard Whitely Sanskrit Sartre Satre Seeley Library Sherlock Sidgwick st johns St. Catherines Stephen Fry Takeshi's Castle University Library

NICOLA BARTLETT has faced up to the great unknown…

I'd managed to make it to Lent without having crossed its threshold. An institute so great it is known merely by two letters: U.L. It is the "Dark Tower" that follows you wherever you go, rather like the eyes in the Mona Lisa. So it was with a degree of trepidation that I first set foot in the building. Its 1930s entrance hall may resemble that of a department store but in the place of fawning assistants there are rules and regulations and hundreds of terribly important people ready to shoot you looks should you dare even to walk by their desk. Their smirk says: 'I've been here since it opened' for some of them not nine o'clock that morning but 1934 – I'm sure there are some who've never found their way out. 

Each shadowy corner houses these tweed bedecked creatures with their hands so gnarled from notetaking that they've formed claws. It's true the books weren't bad, once I'd figured out how to get them. But all in all the U.L. is a scary place. I think I'll give it a miss until next year.


OLIVER KAY is hoping the Seeley library is where the magic will happen…

Navigating the History Faculty is much like completing a challenge of Takeshi’s Castle. The corridors are unnecessarily narrow, large seminar spaces can be tucked away in the most unlikely of corners, and the toilets regularly leak, so that the foyer smells like an old people’s home.

The Faculty itself is somewhat of an administrative joke, employing complete randomers to oversee a second-year piece of coursework as their only job, and an array of secretaries who send me more emails about nonsense medieval seminars than I thought was previously humanely possible.

However, all of this criticism is rendered futile when one walks into the hallowed Seeley Library. For here is a place of spiritual enlightenment. Here is a place where strange mature students taking the same modules as me, steal all my books. Here is a place, where the curiously shy, but nonetheless fit librarian spends her Monday-Fridays, scanning books and checking her Skype. Our only words exchanged thus far have been ‘that’s a two pound fine on that one there’, but she knows. One day, our paths will cross in a different setting.

GEORGE JOHNSTON feels the class divide in the dizzy heights of St. Johns…

Rich toffs from St. John's assert that their library is representative of their college in general – i.e. it’s pretty fucking brilliant. Encompassing over four floors it certainly isn’t small. Full of expensive new computers it’s certainly not wanting for money. A large collection of books makes trips to faculty libraries seem more like an unnecessary inconvenience reserved for those academically minded Johnian’s that aren’t obsessed with Rugby. 

In Exam Term though, I must admit that it isn’t all that pleasant. Lots of hot, sweaty Red Boys jostle like wild beasts for desk space only to be thrown out by a harem of Jezebels who repeatedly whine ‘My finals start in two days’.

One wonders why they wouldn’t want to work in their reputedly enormous rooms instead then.  Instead, academic sources suggest all this library tension is a bizarre mating ritual that ejaculates into a prolific spree of drunken endeavours during May Week. 

At least you can still steal free paper from the printers, maybe even a computer mouse if you’re really stingy, or if you’re a total prick, why not take one of the shiny, expensive Macbooks those posh wankers are prone to leave lying around.


EMILIE FERRIS is a local girl at heart…

Interestingly enough, my library in Edgware, the armpit of North London, doesn't have much in the way of books. Not in the real sense, anyway. What it does have is a surprising abundance of heavily beige trench-coated suspicious looking middle aged men who lurk around the children's section. Not that anybody ever does, but if you wanted to borrow a book, then you have to go through a series of bizarre and invasive security checks which would not seem out of place at the entrance to Al-Qaida strongholds.

On top of that, they have a new irritating community orientated scheme which "encourages" the "parents" to bring their "children" to play along with some kind of rhyme based yoga class, which involves counting very slowly and loudly from one to ten.

If you manage to suffer through the indignation of being offered a free mother and baby pass to one of these "sessions", if you manage to avoid the perverts in the biological sciences section and avoid talking to the elderly ladies who convene, en masse, to bitch about their husbands, then you still have to skirt around or blot out the GCSE students, all "revising" for their "important" exams with their incessantly beeping iPhones or iTouches or iPods or whatever new piece of technological junk that pleases people nowadays.


MOLLY GAVRIEL was and still is bowled over…

Ok, I’ll admit it. I chose to apply to my college on the basis of its beautiful library. In fact, I chose all my universities based on their libraries. Ugly shelving units? Not on this application form. 

In my naive sixth- form-student state I didn’t realise quite how much of my future life would be spent amongst the shelves, so the fact that I don’t now hate King’s College Library has got to be a point in its favour. I actually quite like being in the library at 3am, or early on a Sunday morning. The 24hr opening times gives the library  an almost laid back atmosphere (quite an achievement for the place I spend nearly every moment of stress and academic disaster), complete with pizza boxes and confused looking medics consuming unhealthy amounts of sugar and energy drinks, seemingly oblivious to the multiple ‘NO FOOD, NO DRINKS’ signs that decorate the walls. 

And yes, King’s College library is incredibly beautiful – distractingly so. 


MATT BURNS finds solace with the lawyers…

As a vet student I lack a central library in town, and so have explored a number of other faculties’ libraries. The Law library has always struck me as fascinating. It is enormous, standing as the proud King of humanities on the Sidgwick site. It is generally devoid of what I call “Tappers”; drooling students glaring cross-eyed into laptop screens with hands working at the rate of a sewing machine.  Presumably, the effort of hurling their machine up the umpteen flights of stairs is too much to even contemplate.

Productivity increases as one is less likely to pop out to answer a phone call or have a fag, for it takes 7 minutes to exit the building. But unlike the UL, you can’t really get lost.

It is also the only library in Cambridge where efficiency is weather dependent. On sunny days I recommend it to Geography students to experience the Greenhouse effect first hand. And you know it’s over if it starts to rain.

You won’t want to get wet going elsewhere, but the noise and hypnotic pounding of water on glass is far more fascinating than trying to figure out exactly how Polansky’s Duck-billed Vaginoscope actually works. 


MARC SHALET enjoys settling down with H.G Ludwig's 'The Sexual Habits of Eunuchs; No Ball Games Allowed' in peace at the Fitzwilliam College Library…

'The new thing is the best thing'. I'm not sure who said that. It may have been Stephen Fry or Steve Jobs or Gandhi. I may have just made it up having written this at an ungodly hour and been desperate for a way to start this piece. That's the feeling I often get working late into the night in my college's brand-spanking new library™ , opened by HRH Prince Philip at the start of this term and welcoming caffeine-addled Fitzbillies 24/7 ever since.  

The one it replaced was not so much a library as a giant coffin lined with books. Now there is ample room and big windows looking over the college. Is that essay on rural poetry getting you down? Gaze out of that big window for the next 45 minutes and imagine you're having a picnic with Byron and Keats on the college lawns. 

I'm told they have these fantastic new printers but I haven't been able to use one yet as there's always a post-grad printing his 450 page thesis on the sexual habits of eunuchs (and running off spares to send to his mum). There's this really cool turret (yes, a turret, like in a castle) with a winding staircase with desks as you go up but given how exposed it is I'd only go there if you really want to show the world you have been revising for 53 hours straight. 


For ALEX WETTEN, The Art and Architecture Library is a world of its own…

In Sartre’s play ‘No Exit’ he described hell as being like an old drawing room – well furnished, dimly lit and even comfortable. However, as time stretches to infinity the hot, stuffy atmosphere lulls you into a slumber from which you instantly awake and the gently oppressive antique furniture suffocates you until you lash out violently at everyone around you. Sartre could just as easily have described the Art and Architecture library for this sultry, stifling, maddening chamber and Hell are one and the same thing. 

No amount of determination or caffeine ever prevents me from leaving this library looking and feeling like a passenger aboard a long-haul flight to the moon. Every attempt I have made to sit at one of the long, mahogany tables and write or read or do anything but sleep has been a categorical failure only made harder by the soft leather armchair placed next to a radiator in the far corner of the library that is guaranteed to comatose any sitter.

Even the most organized of students can be broken when they discover that of the six books required for their essay, five are still on loan to a student who died in the Boer War and the last remaining book is written in Sanskrit.

One particular student couldn’t even make it through the introductory tour; so strongly did the librarian remind her of her own mother that she rushed crying from the building, addled by a sense of homesickness and shame, and was never able to set foot in the library again without being reduced to a wailing mess. Although this particular case was due more to the acute mental instability of the girl than the building itself, these examples all serve to illustrate the hellish truth about this most ungodly of libraries.


MAX LEVINE is fond of his familiar and intimate college haunts…

What other college can boast a pink chapel, a hall featuring the portrait of what appears to be the late great Richard Whitley and second year accommodation in which every room is octagonal? Little did the architect realise that octagons don't tessellate. Silly architect.

St.Catharine's also boasts two libraries: the eldest is christened "Sherlock" and the newer, yes you guessed it, the "New Library". The Sherlock is a 'proper' old school affair with tall, dark wood, shelves holding the colleges English, languages and art collections. The tables and chairs are engraved with the names of students that died during the war, serving as possibly the most guilt fuelled form of work motivation possible. However, despite the subtle morbidity, large stained glass windows, high ceilings, good lighting and isolated location away from passing friends and traffic makes it an ideal study location.

It's popularity is it's only downfall. Four to a table results in close proximity. This can be useful if you want to admire some post grad you never get to talk to but frustrating if, like me, you need to nest to revise. The Sherlock is cosy but someones too cosy. 


LAUREN BINNIE doesn't take things too seriously down south…

Modern, bright and airy, there's (usually) a relaxed atmosphere. It has only been in exam term, and occasionally very late at night, that it feels like anyone is getting any work done.  Homerton is not a teacher training college, but it is unique for its large collection of children's books, which can have its down side since titles such as 'Spot the Dog' and 'Where's Wally?' often seem so much more appealing than the topic of a general weekly essay.  There is also an extensive collection of classic Disney, and I recently hit gold with the newest Twilight.

With so much fun and games, there is only a limited number of relevant academic books, but with staring into space across its open plan layout such an attractive alternative, not getting a lot done is fine by me.