Why I both love and hate the UL

Weighing up the good and bad of the phallic tower of misery

Cambridge cambridge students Cambridge University exam term Exams Student Students Tab the tab UL university University Library

Exam term is well and truly in motion. 

If you’re anything like me, by now you’ve probably cursed your previous self that you didn’t attend lectures. Now you’ve got to traipse through about a hundred JSTOR articles to make something that vaguely resembles notes you can learn.

The UL is one place you can go if, also like me, you want to pretend to work whilst absent-mindedly scrolling Facebook. As with everything at Cambridge, its both good and bad.


It has everything. And I mean everything.

A quick Wikipedia scroll informs me that the UL has over 8 million items in stock. It legally has to have a copy of every book published in the UK. This means that, not only can I take out the ‘Cambridge Companions to…’ the day before my essay is due, but I have the honour of working in the same place that houses Katie Price’s classic ‘Love, Lipstick and Lies: The Autobiography.’

Who needs Shakespeare when you have Price? (You have no idea what weird looks I got requesting this…)

I actually work there

I feel that when everyone walks into the UL, they take themselves and their degree a little more seriously than before. I always hope that if I just sit in the Reading Room, some of the enthusiasm of the third years will rub off on me like osmosis. Alas, the grade in my last essay proves otherwise, although its reassuring to think that some of the brightest minds of the past have also steadily lost enthusiasm for their degree in its corridors.

The tea room

Occasionally, the UL can be a little serious, with one student on the newly-erected suggestions board advising ‘banning people who sniff or breath too loudly…’ (good luck with Fresher’s Flu in Michaelmas is all I can say). Plus all the work I’m pretending to do can get tiring. Cue a break in the Tea Room. It is a time warp, a place where, despite restricting myself to half an hour, I can often be found 2 hours later chatting away whilst the Tray Lady (or should I say Bae Lady, amirite?) looks on with disapproval at what I’ve become.

The Tea Room – the ideal place to procrastinate from procrastination


Opening times

I mean, why isn’t it open on a Sunday? If my DOS honestly expects me to read 5 Shakespeare plays, write two essays, and go to 11 lectures and two seminars a week, surely the least the university can do is provide a place for us to actually do our crazy amount of work in?

Why can’t I take out certain books?

It’s almost as if they want to trap me in here forever spending money on overpriced Nutella muffins.

The temperature

It seems strange that in a place with the world’s brightest minds, no one can seem to coordinate a regular temperature throughout. Why is the West Room always freezing, and the Reading Room always boiling?

Free coffee and tea?

I don’t understand how Cambridge expect us to maintain our ridiculous work schedule when they don’t provide us with the necessary facilities to stay awake in order to do so. We should at least have free hot water and a microwave to re-heat leftovers.

Arriving and leaving

Anyone who has ever been to the UL knows how annoying getting in and out is. First you have to find a locker that isn’t broken, take everything out of your bag and put it into a clear plastic bag, and then enter the 4-digit code to a locker about 6 times before it finally works.

Then, there’s the issue of leaving. I often feel I’m in a high security prison as the lady on the desk insists on rifling through my bag, flicking through all my calendars and notebooks, and opening my laptop in order to check that I haven’t stolen anything. Firstly, it’s useless – I could just hide something under my jumper – and secondly, why would I want to do so when all my resources are online?

Every student’s worst nightmare

Once I’ve finally remembered my locker (by entering my code into about 47 random ones in the hope one will turn green) it’s time to leave and get back to reality.

Or the rest of Cambridge life, which is about as far from reality as you can get.