Boxed In

It’s gorgeous out.  Not the “the-sky-is-only-85%-covered-in-clouds-today-and-it-hasn’t-rained-in-an-hour” weather that usually passes for gorgeous in England, but legitimately, fantastically, gorgeous .  Which is why I am extremely bitter to have spent all weekend inside a library*, and am writing this incredibly boring post about… libraries!

I never got the sense that Princeton had much of a library culture.  Seniors occasionally descended into their carrels for a few weeks at a time, and I generally spent a few painful days prior to Dean’s Date camped out in Wu Library, but beyond that, the library was a place to visit to—you know—get books, and not much else.  I distinctly remember on my campus tour being told, “Unlike Harvard, we don’t leave our libraries open all night”—and thinking that was a good thing.

This is not the case at Oxford.  We are, I venture to say, a bit obsessed with libraries.  Partly, it’s because the university lacks the “sophisticated” technology necessary to post readings online, so we are stuck competing for a handful of copies of assigned books that are on hold (“They didn’t need e-reserves in the 12th century, and we don’t need them now!”).  It’s also, however, cultural: most people here do their work in libraries, which makes me feel like if I’m serious about my studies, I ought to be working in a library.  The university doesn’t make it easy for us, though: there are 100 libraries at Oxford, each with its own unpredictable set of opening and closing hours and nonsensical rules (Is the library closed stack?  Can you use a laptop?  Headphones?)

The real inspiration for this post came today when I emerged from the Graduate “Quiet Study” room onto rows and rows of desperate-looking undergraduates studying for exams.  It hit me that we don’t really go to the library to be productive—we just come here to punish ourselves.  There’s no shortage of procrastination, it just takes a much less amusing form, since options are pretty much limited to facebook, writing pointless blog posts and—for the truly hopeless—endless games of free cell.  They manage to spice things up in the Worcester College library by having a “topless half-hour” declared at a random time each day, but I’d say, overall, libraries here are pretty desolate places.

I feel kind of sad writing this, because I think libraries are, generally, one of civilization’s greatest achievements.  It really is totally rad that there are huge repositories of potentially subversive ideas out there that the government actually allows to exist.  But, I have to say, I think I’m going to do my remaining reading for this term outside.

* Unless you count eight hours of rowing practice over the last two days.

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Jukebox: Sum 41 – Summer

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