Oberlin Blogs

Steal Away

November 11, 2009

Marsha Lynn Bragg

I'm embarrassed to admit this... but for someone who enjoys reading, continues to add to her personal library, and owns more than her share of bookstore discount cards...I didn't make serious contact with my university library until my senior year in college.

Oddly, I didn't consider the library as a place to study but a place to browse and research books, check out books, and return them. I much preferred to study in the quiet confines of my dorm room or in our student lounge, in part to cut down on distractions and interruptions. Our dorm also had small study rooms that we could reserve. No need to trek up the steep Morton or Jefferson hills to the university library when I could just as easily roll out of my bunk bed (and stay in my jammies all day if I wanted) and go to my desk to hit the books or write my papers. Everything I needed was within arm's reach--textbooks, papers, notes, study guide, dictionary, snacks.

It finally took a classmate to tell me about the benefits of our academic library. She had been meeting with a study group and had wondered why I'd not joined them. I confessed that I didn't know about the group or where in the library they met. How could I if I didn't go to the library? She berated me for not taking part sooner, and for avoiding the library in general. Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing.

I soon learned the library was where most students met to study and talk about economics, politics, the ethics of journalism, world history, anthropology, art history, education... Where faculty members or TAs might host a special review session on a critical section of a lesson... Where you could attend an all-nighter during exam week and partake of coffee, pastries, and other snacks for free. Back then it was a cardinal sin to bring food and drinks into the library. Even without the electronic gadgetry and computers that are present today and would cause concern for safety, you just didn't bring foodstuffs into the library. Actually, it was nearly impossible: Library security checked backpacks, purses, and other bags as you entered and left the building.

Not the practice at Mudd Library and perhaps no longer the norm at my former school. That said: Don't make the same mistake. Get to know Mudd Library as soon as possible, even Oberlin Public Library, and visit it often.

Mudd Library is one happening place. The only time I've seen it with so few students is during such scheduled breaks as Winter Term, select holidays, and summer. And that is how it should be.

At Oberlin, I believe the library is synonymous with academic rigor, intellectual stimulation, laptops, socializing, networking, and to some degree relaxing. Sure the traditional activities take place--reading, research, studying--but to have a coffee and pastry café in a library... who'd thought?

My daughter's high school library recently became a cyber café, so students can eat and drink while they surf select websites using state-of-the-art computers. Seems like there is a widespread effort to make libraries more invigorating places where silence is not the mandate. OK, maybe quiet study.

I try to visit Mudd at least once a week. It offers many places to steal away.

What I especially like is that I can either bring my laptop or check one out. Much like reserving any traditional library material, one needs simply an Oberlin ID card and a T-number. As a staffer, I may reserve a laptop for the full day. And to my delight, Macs seem to be the computers of choice. When I say I'm going to Mudd to work, I am.

Another new discovery for me (and pardon me if you know about this) were the womb chairs, those colorful, odd-looking orb-shaped chairs found on several floors of the library. I had heard so much talk about their comfort, of how one feels as if a cloud has enveloped them... I had to try one for myself.

In actuality, these are not womb chairs but ball chairs. The chairs are the creation of Finnish designer Eero Aarnio, an early innovator in the use of plastic and fiberglass in industrial design.

Most of the times I've gone to the library the ball chairs have been occupied. Not so on this particular day. I got way too comfy in one of the orange orbs on the second floor. The chairs are definitely not meant for any form of studying, reviewing, or anything else that requires conscious thought or deliberation. Next time, I might bring a pillow. Never mind. I'm supposed to be working.

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