I get a Carleton alumni magazine a few times a year, and in the latest issue, I was really happy to read the MacOdrum Library is getting a much needed facelift.
This library is so ugly it never once crossed my mind to take a picture of it in the four years I was there, and I take pictures of a lot of things. So ugly that a prof even went on a rant one class about how uninspiring it is, and how can students be expected to respect a space that doesn’t respect itself? The only good thing about that library was its hours–it stayed open pretty late, but I’ve heard that has since changed.
As the article says, everybody hates the tiny, jail cell windows. Ask anyone who’s ever studied there. And unless you have a super long torso, there’s no chance you’re even going to get a view of the quad because the windows are way too high. Did the architects think students would be less distracted if they didn’t have a window to look out of?
The renovation plan, which aims to be completed by the end of 2013, is to push out the front by six meters and to cover those four floors with one large window. The space between the current wall and the new wall will be a socializing/group study space. This expansion also seeks to rectify the growing problem of a lack of study carrels by increasing its seats from 1200 to 2000.
Too bad it didn’t look like that when I was there. You can imagine my relief when I arrived at the University of Victoria for grad school and was greeted with this:
That entire glass wing is called the Students Galleria and it has extremely comfortable chairs. I would sit with my books and my laptop and bathe in the bright sunlight, waiting for inspiration to strike or maybe burn me through those windows, and the connection between libraries and illumination was all too clear but I didn’t care if it was cliché because here was a spot I liked to study. In openness, in light.
These two university libraries got me thinking about a loosely similar contrast in the New York Public Library. When I was there with a friend last October, our tour guide pointed to the ceiling in the antechamber of the breathtaking Rose Main Reading Room.
The antechamber features a large mural with dark, chaotic clouds packed together. It’s supposed to make you feel tense, unsure, because that’s how research often is. You embark on a project and have no idea what you’re getting into.
But as you stick with it, either you get used to the dark or it’s actually not dark anymore (see the Emily Dickinson poem below), and suddenly, you’re in a completely new space. The clouds part, the sky speaks in a softer blue, and the sun shines gloriously through.
Let there be light.
We grow accustomed to the Dark–
When Light is put away–
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye–
A Moment–We uncertain step
For newness of the night–
Then–fit our Vision to the Dark–
And meet the Road–erect–
And so of larger–Darknesses
Those Evenings of the Brain–
When not a Moon disclose a sign–
Or Star–come out—within–
The Bravest–grope a little–
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead–
But as they learn to see–
Either the darkness alters–
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight–
And Life steps almost straight.