Breaking the Olin bubble: A tour of the University libraries

| Senior Editor

With Washington University student schedules as hectic as they are, it’s easy to seek the comforts of routine and convenience. We go to the same lunch spot every MWF because it’s right in the middle of our 11:00-12:00 class and our 1:00-2:30 class, and we order the same sandwich because there’s an exam/presentation/lab today and we can’t afford to dislike a new option when every mental fiber is needed.

Typically, these routines form in the first week of the semester and last until the last week; after all, quickly automating the small decisions of where to spend our unscheduled hours frees our minds to get stressed over the important things.

But the problem with developing routines automatically is just that: We don’t put much, if any, thought into them. After a full year of exclusively utilizing the second floor of Olin and the fourth floor of the Psychology Building for my studying, I found myself in the Law Library one afternoon last April and suddenly realized there were dozens of spaces and resources on campus I had never thought to try, most of which were much more beautiful and conducive to productivity than my default spots.

When I came back to Wash. U. this year, I knew I only had a limited amount of time before I trapped myself in a new narrow path. So I decided to be intentional and informed when building my routine. Specifically, I decided to try studying in each of the 10 libraries on the Danforth Campus to figure out which was genuinely the best study spot.

For anyone else looking to try all the flavors, here is everything I learned while exploring.

Kranzberg Art & Architecture

The ground floor of the Kemper Art Museum is a bit of a walk unless you’re already by the East End, but this thorn has its corresponding rose—the last remnants of construction are keeping the Art & Architecture Library secluded. Sunlight fills the room thanks to giant windows on three walls, a personal necessity if I’m spending a whole afternoon somewhere, and the multiple computers, printers, paper cutters and other office supplies ensure you won’t be rushing out to find anything while you work.

The library keeps a small collection of books on moving shelves for entertainment as well as exclusively rolling chairs. While the bland white walls initially surprised me, the blankness drives a creative impulse to fill the space. Combined with raised lights on the table that suggest you should be inspecting something, the overall aesthetic is ideal to begin your masterwork in.

The Brown School

Once again, the fact that you must climb three flights of stairs in the Brown School building to reach the library means that few other students will. The Brown School Library houses the majority of its books in separate side rooms, leaving for a wide open study space with windows on three sides. The library artfully mixes couches, tables of different sizes and individual study desks, allowing you to customize your study experience anywhere on the relaxing green carpet. The simplistically colored journals lining the shelves are reminiscent of Minecraft bookshelves or dollhouse items, which adds to the homely feeling of the library. However, it also reinforces how small the space feels.

Al and Ruth Kopolow (Business) Library

The Business Library’s location in Simon Hall keeps it within reach of the South 40 and the Village, and the area is a little more popping as a result. In classic B-school fashion, the space boasts sleek furniture and several group study rooms, as well as some truly innovative couches with desks, an ideal form of the seats in large lecture halls. The one windowed wall slants up toward a second floor, exposing the shelves and a few rows of individual study desks, but not allowing enough sunlight for my taste.

Chemistry Library

The library of your (read: my) “Beauty and the Beast” dreams. The small, high-up space in Louderman Hall allows for an overhead view of Olin Library and Mudd Field from its two windowed walls, nourishing the plants on each of the differently-sized tables.

The second-floor balcony makes for an even better perch, with individual study desks carved into filled bookshelves and more plants hanging over the sides. The Chemistry Library tends to be at a quarter to half capacity, but this thankfully does not interfere with the free chocolates and chemistry swag always available at the entrance.

While I’ll still describe the remaining libraries, my heart stopped searching here.

Ronald Rettner Earth & Planetary Sciences Library

The space tucked in Rudolph Hall is less of a library or study space and more of a checkpoint. The campus’ smallest (in seemingly usable space—I haven’t measured anything) library contains a few individual study desks and computers, but lacks any real group tables or access to daylight. All that being said, I use the word ‘checkpoint’ because the Earth & Planetary Sciences Library’s shining feature is its adventurous collection of maps, whose folds likely contain secrets that no other reference on campus can help unearth.

East Asian Library

The East Asian Library in January Hall is imposing. The wooden arches and floating chandeliers are reminiscent of an era, perhaps only ever real in fantasy books, when coming to a university means discovering the secrets of nature, and the massive tables and thick curtains on the three windowed walls demand serious study. The library is generally open enough to occupy a 15-person table by yourself while tackling the big questions. Most of the books are tucked away in a separate, three-floor area densely packed with shelves and metal-ladder stairs.

Law Library

The massive expanse curving around three floors of Anheuser-Busch Hall is entirely quiet, despite only some of its rooms being designated as such. The main reading room silently screams “Law Library” with its wooden arches, hanging lights and antiquated lamps on each table. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the group study alcove—hiding a floor above the rest of the library—available, but the Law Library is always somewhat populated.

Gaylord Music Library

Yes, there is a library in the wing of campus near the South 40 that I only ever knew contained the Alumni House. The quaint Music Library in Gaylord Hall is easily reached from the Danforth University Center or Simon Hall when you need a slight break from campus during the day, and the all-brick walls, three windowed walls and stained glass allow you to completely detach from the hassle of the day. The Music Library is also the most thematic of the campus libraries, with its posters and busts of musicians. The second floor has an impressive array of individual study desks with personal emerald-colored lamps, all of which look over a balcony to the first floor. If you’re looking to disappear completely, the narrow basement holds a single desk, which will likely be free, as the library is typically nearly empty.

John M. Olin Library

You may still remember your tour guide taking you through Olin Library when you first visited Wash. U. and describing the noise levels of the five floors: quiet study spaces on the 3rd floor and in the B-stacks growing louder as you move toward the center, with the first-floor Whispers Cafe counterintuitively being one of the loudest spots on campus.

Here you’ll constantly struggle for a seat, but at one of those booths and tables you’ll also always find someone you know. Whether your stay is of a recreational, masochistic cramming or extended-living-situation nature (see last year’s Olin Games ), Olin Library has everything you need, including study room reservations as well as laptop, charger and camera rentals. Watch the days and nights pass through entirely windowed walls as you conjure a final portfolio from the depths of your sleep deprivation.

Gustavus A. Pfeiffer Physics Library

The first floor of the Physics Library in Compton Hall was being remodeled when I visited, but I was told to get excited about the newly installed carpet and floor electrical outlets. The library also looks to have wider group tables, checkers tables and giant bean bag chairs. The massive windows of one wall also shine on the individual study desks on the second floor balcony.

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