Life at the library: An existential day of belonging

By Kleopatra Olympiou

At first, you feel like everyone’s watching. The sound of your own footsteps makes you self-conscious. You sit down quietly, quietly unpack your books, quietly highlight, or underline, or circle the words in front of you. If you drop something, you are inwardly horrified by your own clumsiness.

With time, you grow more comfortable. Your work is less solitary. The company of strangers keeps you motivated. When you break the bubble of concentration and look up from your work, you realise you are surrounded by active minds. You can almost feel an electric energy, the buzzing of brain wheels spinning, engines of understanding turning; the sharpness of human intelligence lights up the room. And so you are part of the library, part of the current of brainpower that channels through the room, if only you look up, see, and tune in.

You become embedded in the fabric of the library, part of the wider tapestry of the student population.

By choosing to work here, you are actively engaging with a community of learners. You become embedded in the fabric of the library, part of the wider tapestry of the student population, and the very fact of your belonging will empower you to work harder.

By using the library’s resources, you enter a dialogue with a series of eyes who have looked at the same pages and run their consciousness along the same entrenched lines of the same argument’s trough. You may encounter them in the notes they leave behind, the scribbles on margins, the very bookmarks forgotten between pages. Even the stamped dates at the back of books telling you when they were first borrowed will connect you to strangers who spent parts of their lives in Durham many years before you. Most amusingly, the rare vandalised book will keep you entertained (a little tip for the curious: you may enjoy a copy of Thomas Marc Parrott’s ‘William Shakespeare, a handbook’ in Bill Bryson Library, a book that has been the victim of multiple readers who eyed its arguments very critically, and passionately so). To read a library book is to walk into a room populated by the students who have read it before you. It is an act of participation, rendering you even more of a Durham student. You occupy the same physical space, the same thought space. You are part of this place.

To read a library book is to walk into a room populated by the students who have read it before you.

The shifting lights in the room will tell you that the sun has moved, hours have passed, the earth has shifted. The appearance and disappearance of people will occasionally remind you of the passage of time. When dusk comes, or night falls, or morning breaks, you will pack up exhausted and filled with gratitude: gratitude for a place that allows you to be another speck of light and thought and activity, adding to the inspiring force that is working in the library. As you walk to the exit, you will knowingly smile at the souls that are still studying, the faces that will not register your passing, each lost in its own capsule of knowledge. In the course of the library’s existence, you too have briefly dwelled here.

Image: heipei via Flickr

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