Tonight I neglected Na-No-Wri-Mo (again) for a more pressing writing assignment: I sat at a university library cubicle working on a paper until 11:20pm. It was the first time in over a decade that I have a paper to write, and equally long since I sat at a campus library as a student.
It was sort of, but sort of not what I remember campus late nights to be like.
For one thing, it was REALLY REALLY quiet, almost empty of students to the immediate eye. My recollection of late nights at Sedgewick Library includes clusters of Asian students, many of them my friends, buried (or sleeping) in the cubicles or at the closed cafe round tables outside the main doors, until the wee late hours of the night, even during weekdays and non-exam times. The strongest indication that the library tonight was occupied by someone other than me was the incessant buzzing and pop-tune-ringtone of a cell phone that someone had left somewhere unattended and forgotten to mute. That kind of sucked.
That kind of technology was another difference. I was doing my research notes and paper outline on my MacBook, not a notebook and pen, while at the same time I was connected to the internet right under my fingers. I didn’t have to get up to use the library catalogue for one thing. The other was that I had the ability to communicate with friends and associates from that very cubicle. The connectedness was totally new -I was strongly reminded that way back then, if I wanted to locate a study buddy or set up a snack break or get a ride home, I had to leave my stuff and cubicle, walk around of step out of the library to physically search for my friend, or find someone else to ask if they’d seen my friend. No such thing as an SMS away. Tonight I was constantly linked with at least one of my circles of associates via TweetDeck, whose notification messages popped up from time-to-time on my screen while I was working. With my MacBook and phone on me, I was hyper-aware tonight that I was just a few keystrokes away from anyone who I might want to connect or chat with. I believe that the one other student I saw on the entire upstairs was deeply engaged in an instant-messaging session with someone when I passed her on the way to the bookstacks.
The other minor thing that was really different from Sedgewick is that food and drinks are TOTALLY allowed here. I had my aluminum mug of coffee with me, and here and there at different cubicles, I saw evidence of others’ snacking activities left behind. Not sure I like this difference (drinks? in a LIBRARY? near cloth-bound books and portable digital devices?…) but I benefitted from that tonight.
Similarities? The ratty chairs and cubicles that looked, well, old, like out of the 1970’s or something. They were relatively clean, minus the crumbs and some mug rim stains, but seriously, it looked like my old library. Mind you, my university has almost completed a second library building that is supposed to be uber-modern, Leeds-certified, and just gorgeous, if the architects’ representations are accurate, so in a few months I will be able to say that we have a contemporary library here as well.
Well, the bookstacks were the same as undergrad. Since it’s been ages since I was last reading for academic research and had been only using the public library, I was momentarily stumped by the catalogue numbering system that wasn’t Dewey decimal, the staple of public libraries that I’ve been going to for the last 30-odd years.
The last thing that was the same was the feeling of my mind racing as I scanned article after article, skimmed table of contents, jotting notes (though electronically) down, and the satisfaction of the haze of ideas coalescing into something more concrete that would make sense once I put them to the page.