UC Berkeley News
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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Students studying
With final exams underway, students hunker down in the Doe-Moffitt library complex. (Jeffery Kahn photo)

Round-the-clock studies: The library as first resort

Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2007 edition of fiat lux, the quarterly newsletter of the University Library.

At the center of campus, in the heat of final exams, Cal students competed for space in the Library this winter. We opened the Gardner Stacks in the Doe-Moffitt complex 24 hours a day during exam week. Students rushed in at all hours, with some surprises.

As is now common in the study areas we have refurbished, students filled every table. They lined up to reserve group study rooms, the disappointed then taking over hallways to spread out their work and to talk. We got used to walking around and through the young people, but remain startled at some of their coping skills. They put toiletry kits on the book shelves. We found a tent pitched in the stacks, and an air mattress. We seem to be passing from study hall into study resort. We keep the Free Speech Movement Café open during all Library hours, and students have figured out: they never have to leave.

We thought it would be bad form to interrupt their studies with questions. Indeed, we were sheepish about the way we had scheduled nearby construction when we thought we would have few visitors. I learned from a student e-mail, sent at 1:00 a.m., that the "peace and quiet" of the Library fell short.

Cal sophomores did speak up about libraries in the seminar I taught last semester on all of our construction projects, an effort to see what sense students could make from the more than $125 million recently spent or now supporting construction on the Bancroft Library, Great Rooms in Doe, the C.V. Starr East Asian Library, and the new Hargrove Music Library. Students, after all, see these projects as fields of mud and fences in their way, and the noise does indeed rattle the whole campus.

We began with readings on libraries in ancient and medieval times, then hung out at construction sites. Behind every library, the sophomores observed, there is a "heartless space." They saw these on hard hat tours into "the empty gaping interior of the building before it is put together." We spent so much time seeing how structural problems were being solved that anything not a dusty construction site won applause. The improvised space for the Bancroft collections in downtown Berkeley became a "country club for books." The scrimshaw reading room of the present East Asian Library was a "warm and comfortable atmosphere to study and relax in," another student insisted. One student said that a rip in a "worn and authentic" leather door in the North Reading Room in Doe was too lovely to fix. These Cal students resembled the finals crowds — grateful to a fault.

The Library has things to learn about what students are seeking. The sophomores were a diverse bunch, but they all thought that what they had learned in the Library would stick with them. I learned from one sophomore about the scavenger hunt that required a photograph of the Cal Band, high-stepping through the Library (my talented student had done her part, I believe). Another sophomore said that "study buddies" and close friendships were a normal part of "library bondings" at Cal. In a quick journal entry, a student wrote "Entering the library gives you a sense of importance that you cannot find sitting in front of a computer. Libraries are full with knowledge that is almost contagious for someone who enjoys the feeling of learning."