Four days, four libraries: Here’s what it was like

| Contributing Writer
Three people walk next to a building with floor-to-ceiling windows.

A group of students walk past Olin Library, a popular campus study spot. (Curran Neenan/Student Life)

A month into college, my classes have picked up their pace, bringing with them a sharply increased workload, and — since my dorm room has gotten old fast — the need for a good place to complete it. I spent an hour studying in four different spaces at the same time each day in the hopes of comparing study environments around campus and to find what works best for me (and maybe for you, too). 

John M. Olin Library

I start with the tried and true (and easy to find): Olin Library. From the outside, it’s not fully clear that it’s a five-floor labyrinth of study spaces. If I spent an hour on each separate floor, I’d likely get wildly varying results, and the time it would take to traverse all its pockets and corridors exceeds the time I have.

I’m not sure how to get to the area that will be the most quintessentially Olin, but I find my way to the spiral staircase and just start climbing. All the college tours were right: a library really does get quieter as you go up! At 11:02 a.m. I stumble into a seat separated from three others by an orange wooden divider. Set against the faded teal geometric carpet, it presents a somewhat jarring color scheme. Behind me are what must be thousands of books on narrow shelves, while in front of me is the door leading to the cool but empty Sky Room. 

In glass panels I see the reflection of someone’s laptop playing a movie. Resisting the temptation to squint and see what they’re watching, I pull out the reading I have to do: can I finish two books of the “Iliad” before the hour is up? 

As wood obscures my view of the room, I reach a scene with talking horses and start feeling like I’m having a fever dream. Various noises litter the passing time. It’s 11:46 a.m. when suddenly, the head across from me pops up from behind the divider. A jump scare, to say the least. 

When the hour is up, I leave Olin still awash in its quiet chaos, its eclectic rooms and fellow studiers. Reliable and layered, it’s a good place to drop into if you’ve got time between classes. Plus, its many sections and floors allow for variation if you need a change of scenery. 

The Law Library

When I pass through the doors into Anheuser-Busch, I feel young. Does it take asking a law student to find the entrance to the library? Maybe. Is it worth it? Certainly. 

The Janite Lee Reading Room is aesthetically pleasing: it’s filled with dark wood and tall lamps atop wide tables, and bookshelves line the perimeter housing red, black and gold legal volumes. Large, arched windows bring light into what might be an otherwise heavy room, and outside, the trees surrounding Mudd Field conspire to create a picturesque view. 

It’s pin-drop silent. You can certainly hear the full water bottle that accidentally slips from my hands, making a few heads turn. From that point, I find myself completing small tasks in slow motion.

At 11:04 a.m., I sit in a slightly uncomfortable but posture-improving wooden chair at a long table, right next to one of the windows, and notice the a plaque beneath it commemorating a “Mr. and Mrs. Donald W. Paule, JD ‘66.” To be featured beneath a window of all things strikes me as a very niche type of clout. Have I found a new goal in life?

When the hour ends, I leave feeling… tranquil? Motivated? It’s a pleasant feeling, and I plan to come back here to study again soon. 

East Asian Studies Library

The only thing I’ve heard about this library is fellow freshmen wondering where it is. I’ve heard that it’s in January Hall, so after figuring out where January Hall is, I head there. Helpful signs lead me to the library on the second floor.

Upon entering, it’s even quieter than Anheuser-Busch. I tiptoe in; it’s only after I sit (lifting, not dragging the chair) that I can focus on my surroundings. Similarly to the law library, the room is adorned with dark wood and lined with volumes of books. There are ornate chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, and again, beautiful windows.

It’s easy in this space to simply reach for a pen and begin taking macroeconomics notes. Throughout this process, I’ve become accustomed to the stray noises that accompany studying (a bag unzipping, a page flipping over), and they’re no different here except that they feel less noticeable, somehow, than the other places I’ve visited so far. 

The hour seems to go by pretty quickly, and I leave feeling like I’ve found yet another great study space at WashU. It might require some planning to come on a normal day since it’s a bit of a hike from the South 40, but if you can make the trip, it’s rewarding.

Danforth University Center

Okay, I know this one is not a library, but from passing through it, I’ve noticed it’s a commonly used study spot, and I thought I’d see what I’ve been missing. I go a little later in the day to avoid the breakfast and lunch rush and have the best chance at a productive study experience, but this proves futile.

It’s 3:00 p.m. on the dot when I enter. It is bustling with people, and all the chairs are filled. Eventually I find an open spot on the second floor. During this walking around, I make a new observation about the DUC: the ceiling is multicolored. How did I not notice this prior to now? 

Suddenly, music begins to blast and I realize there’s some sort of event going on in Tisch Commons. I look down to see a projector screen flashing slides with facts about Greek Life. I can either tough it out through the distraction or move, and after some brief consideration I choose the latter. 

It’s a nice day, so outside seems like the place to be. I sit down in a black chair with a view of the DUC’s entrance and a barren parking lot. The greenery behind me makes it a pleasant place to sit. Still, I find it hard to focus. The hour comes to a close and I’ve gotten very little done. Unsurprisingly, if you study at the DUC, you may find yourself distracted by loud events and a significant fraction of the student body. Still, if you’re in a pinch and desperate enough to actually get something done (or maybe if you’re hungry), the DUC will do. 


Read more first-person experience stories:

The first year sophomore experience

An atheist’s experience at Lutheran Campus Ministry

Navigating WU as a freshman during the pandemic

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe