Oberlin Blogs

Finding Study Spaces

December 4, 2023

Hanna Alwine ’26

I forgot a jacket this morning. My mind is in a lot of places, but certainly not here. It is somewhere up in the clouds, floating among the monolith of gray that closes in our little Ohio town. The weather has finally made the shift from fall to frigid. On my walk over to Slow Train, the coffee shop which monopolizes busy warmth in Oberlin, Ohio, from Pyle Inn Co-op where I eat my meals, my hands turn purple. I suppose, I think, looking at my white knuckles which are struggling to bend, I have forgotten my mittens as well. 

I arrive at Slow Train to find it full of students. It is as warm as I remember it, filled to the brim with the busy hum of conversation and the click-clack of keyboards. Unfortunately, my idea to hunker down in a place with caffeine and the peer-pressure of other students working was not an original one. Every spot is filled. I figure I could install myself at one of the long tables where strangers sometimes bump elbows with each other, but the idea of sitting so close to strangers, particularly strangers engaged in conversation, seems as if it would be unproductive to my eavesdropping tendencies. So I leave, making my way back into the cold. 

I figure I’ll go to the Local — the only other coffee shop in town, though it is owned by the same people as Slow Train (hence the monopoly I spoke of earlier). I forget that the Local has recently reduced its hours. Previously open until 4 pm, the Local is now open until 2 pm. When I get there it is 1:30 pm. I’ve been looking for a place to install myself for some time to read the rest of my book for my class tomorrow — The Days of Abandonment, written by Elena Ferrante. I only have 80 pages left, 80 pages I should be reading now instead of writing this blog post. 

In any case, 30 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to get any work done. Besides, it seems unkind to enter any coffee shop 30 minutes before close. When I worked at Starbucks, it was aggravating to have people come in immediately before close. Yes, we were technically open. That didn’t mean I had to like it. 

My options are limited. My hands are growing colder by the second. I can feel the heat escaping from the top of my head in great clouds of steam. I stand outside the Local, gazing around Main Street, weighing my options. I need somewhere warm. I need somewhere cozy. Ideally, the somewhere I go would have other students working (some of us need the positive model of other students working in order to do our own work — we are not all singularly capable of self-motivation all of the time). I could go to Mudd. (I do not want to go to Mudd. It is ugly. It is far away. I do not like the way it smells.) I could go to the Blue Rooster, a bakery across the street with a small seating area. (A quick Google Search reveals that, they, too, close at 2 pm.) I could go to the Conservatory Library. I haven’t been there in some time, not since last semester. I can’t remember if they have good seats or not. I begin to make my way there, my feet happy to have any location decided upon. 

Halfway there, I remember the AJLC Library. The AJLC is our Environmentally Sustainable Building. Many students visit it on their campus tours. It is a big building, the pride and joy of Oberlin College administration. Its toilets are strange — there is a sign outside the bathroom that warns you not to be frightened by the yellow water, it is simply a result of something positive for our environment, reusing water? or something? The AJLC smells like dirt. It’s comforting. There is a large stand of plants in the building. There are wicker rocking chairs on the ground floor. 

On the second floor you can find the library. It is small, more of a book room than a library if we would make the distinction between the two. I like going there to curl up on the couches. Unfortunately, today it is occupied. The small size of the room makes it awkward to enter if you are alone and there are people already enjoying the couch and the warm lighting. Still, the AJLC is where I decide to install myself. There are two tables by the window that are rather nice. There are three potted plants that sit there, too, enjoying the westward light. 

As I bring my laptop out of my bag (still a tote bag despite the impracticality, I’d rather have a messenger bag, but have yet to find one that fits my aesthetic and practical needs) and unfold the freeze from my fingertips, I find myself transported back to this time last year. 

When winter begins to tighten its fists around the Oberlin campus, drawing cold winds out of its pockets, stripping the leaves off the branches of the trees that line Tappan Square, pinching cheeks and nose pink, students are driven inside. No longer do students lounge on North Quad. Frisbees are few and far between. Like small animals we make our way to shelter in the warmth of our study spaces. 

Last year, I found myself uniquely upset by the lack of armchairs on campus. I had not yet found the AJLC Library and the rest of Oberlin felt too foreign to find comfort easily accessible. This year, though, I find myself less upset by the plethora of easy sitting than I had been, not simply because of my discovery of the AJLC sinking couch. This semester, I have found myself more comfortable in all of the Oberlin spaces. My second year has brought with it greater responsibilities and greater stress, but it has also given me a chance to find places and spaces where I fit. Degree by degree, discovery by discovery, I am finding this new place (not so new anymore) to be filled with places of comfort and home.

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