I know the library is still there but on this we can all agree: it is not the same. The Berkeley, Hamilton, Ussher or – god forbid – the Lecky, that we all know, hate and love-to-hate have been changed beyond recognition, mere shells of their former selves.
Of course, this is both expected and necessary. The precautions being taken by staff and students are completely essential in these times, but we should still be allowed to take a moment to mourn all that we miss.
The main tragedy with the current library setup is that it has turned the library into a mere location for studying: a place to get in, be as productive as possible and then leave when your work is complete (or when you’re kicked out by someone who has your seat booked). Although technically this is what the library has always been designed to do, we all know that it is so much more. The library, pre-pandemic times, was a social hub, the closest equivalent we could have in modern times to the 20th-century dancehall.
The library was never a place to go and sit and work: it was a place to go and sit and open your books for 10 minutes before getting a text from a friend sitting across the room suggesting you go for a two-hour coffee break. It was a place to performatively study in the Ussher and performatively not study in the Lecky. It was sitting there at five to eight at night, willing a text that always came with the suggestion to “just go for one”.
I miss arriving early and leaving late and not doing a tap of work because I am too busy pretending to do work, or – more often than not – because I am watching lives unfold in front of me. I even miss the early morning rush for a seat during exam time, although that’s probably because I always knew there’d be some left in the Hamilton.
The library was never a place to go and sit and work: it was a place to go and sit and open your books for 10 minutes before getting a text from a friend sitting across the room suggesting you go for a two-hour coffee break
I miss conveniently going to fill my water bottle so I could strike up too-loud conversations with friends, acquaintances and enemies that happened to be taking a break at the same time. I miss the changeover time with all its chaos, judging the people who were taking the opportunity to stress smoke and judging the people who weren’t. I miss the politics of that changeover, of seeing who was staying and who wasn’t, noting down who was talking to who as we all stood in the freezing cold wondering why this was necessary.
I miss being too warm, being too cold, wandering around the shelves of subjects I don’t even study and picking up books that sound interesting as a distraction. I miss the camaraderie of 3am on the second-floor of the Ussher, of the tangibility of the solidarity between myself and mostly strangers as we scrambled to finish assignments or cram some last-minute information in. I miss being there in the middle of the night and then the early morning, the performance of the full-length windows crescendoing to darkness before getting bright again and hearing the birds remind me that I should really be asleep.
I miss being the person crying in the library and I miss being the person not crying in the library. I miss watching people spend three hours watching Netflix and wondering whether they’re procrastinating or just studying film.
I miss crafting the most perfect playlists for library study sessions that I never ended up using and I miss that euphoric moment as you write the last line or type the last sentence – the catharsis of slamming a screen shut, packing up your things and sashaying out of the building while all the other miserable students powered on.
I miss conveniently going to fill my water bottle so I could strike up too-loud conversations with friends, acquaintances and enemies that happened to be taking a break at the same time
I miss sneaking in cups of tea and occasionally even a flask and I miss seeing the outrageous paraphernalia others would show up with, like kettles or blankets or colour-coordinated stationery. I miss trying to figure out what the person beside me is studying based on stereotypes and staring blatantly at their screen, making no effort to be subtle when I googled the words that I could see. I miss the person I sat beside on one particularly stressful night who left me a chocolate bar and sticky note when they vacated their seat.
I even miss those godforsaken Red Bulls that I only drank once, such is my opposition to “Big Energy Drink”. I miss the rain on the roof and walking home in the dark, of taking too many breaks and doing too little work.
I have faith that the library will be back in the way we knew before, in all its pain, glory and humanity. It will return to its previous grandeur and we will be all the better for it, before going back to complaining within a week about how much we hate it. As a final-year student, I may not be lucky enough to see the library I miss return. But I will see it return to normal from afar, and I will smile and reminisce and wonder why I am romanticising a place where I have cried so many times.