Small adventures in essay-land: discovering the joy of a new study space

By Benedict Gardner

When deadlines loom and the workload is heavy, the days can become all too similar. The same activity in the same room can quickly become boring, which in turn can decrease motivation. Yet do not despair. There are two factors at play: one is the identical activity, the other is the identical space. Although you cannot escape the former and must see it through to its end, the two are luckily independent of one another. A new study space can not only add a little bit of interest to your day but it can also help refresh the mind. Be like a studying explorer. It might be only a small adventure, but sometimes that’s all we have time for.

Philosophy Library/Common Room, 51 Old Elvet

The Philosophy library opening once again is an exciting new development. Having long had the most inconvenient opening hours of 1-2, it is now open from roughly ten till five Monday to Friday. This is a pretty basic space, featuring a desk, chairs, hundreds of philosophy books and a PC that looks like it never has and never will turn on. There are also some Biscoff biscuits in a box on the floor, but they’re pretty stale. I suspect they were put there to protect the books by absorbing any atmospheric moisture (there is a lot; the building regularly floods when it rains).

Luckily the kettle in the corner can be used to make a revitalising coffee (no milk provided)

It is very quiet with the only disturbance being the odd philosopher borrowing a book or just having a look because they’ve never seen inside the room before. Philosophers are a curious bunch. A more comfortable experience can be had a few doors down in the Philosophy Common Room. The low chairs are perhaps too comfy, and the room is always too warm, making for quite a soporific experience. Luckily the kettle in the corner can be used to make a revitalising coffee (no milk provided).

Classical Civilisations & Ancient History Library, 38 North Bailey

If the Philosophy department is the mind of a philosopher, with its dead ends and crisscrossing staircases, this is how I imagine the mind of a Classics professor would look, though perhaps a little too modern. A jarring and maybe disappointing mix of antique knowledge and artefacts, furnished by IKEA. Still, this small area does maintain some individual aspects of charm. The highlight is surely the Persian rugs, giving the rooms a cosy sitting room feel. The library consists of two study spaces. While the first room is well suited to staring contests across the big round table, the second is to be prized for its light.

Other than the aesthetic, the Classics library is an indispensable resource for anyone studying Classics

Other than the aesthetic, the Classics library is an indispensable resource for anyone studying Classics, or even just interested in it. It contains every book you could need or want. If you like to surround yourself in old dusty books, this is an ideal space.

Teikyo University Library, Lafcadio Hearn Centre, Mill Hill Lane, DH1 3YB

“In the library, you will feel as if you are in Japan” says the website. It is true; Japan in the eighties. How odd that this time capsule should be found in Durham, tucked away next to Van Mildert and the Oriental Museum. Featuring ancient-looking printers, photographs of long past Teikyo Festivals, and desks with their own little individual reading lamps, it really does feel like nothing has changed in this room for forty years. Although this building may not be physically far from the usual Durham, it feels much further away. The architecture too is different, featuring square panes of glass reminiscent of Japanese paper screens. The librarian is friendly, though a little surprised to see people, so used to being here alone. Expect a suspicious check of your campus card.

This oasis of calm is easily missed

Another draw is the Zen Garden in the central courtyard. The garden gives an alternative vista while studying, and it really does emanate peace. When so used to looking out of the window of the Bill Bryson at the concrete eyesore that is the Science Site, it can be a rush to see gravel rather than paving slabs. However, it still maintains a uniquely Durham character: grey. The beneficial effects of the garden must be true, as proven by the smiles on the staff portraits by the door, a mixture of laughter and kindness in their eyes. Perhaps the best part is that it is completely deserted. Nobody seems to know this place exists. Rushing off to lectures or the library, with busy lives and busy minds, this oasis of calm is easily missed.

Sharp Library (Cathedral)Just off the Cloister

Set in a large hall in the Cathedral, this is probably the grandest room you could choose for studying in Durham. Unfortunately, it is currently only open for a twenty-minute browse and borrow slots. However, when it is open, this big, dark hall is the antithesis of Bill Bryson. This is a case of old vs new. While the old may have plenty of upsides, there is one major drawback. There is only one socket, and so if you are planning on doing any work at all you had better hope you get the seat in the alcove to the right. There is not much chance of using paper either. Unless you bring a torch, the room is as dark as an attic.

Illustration credit: Rosie Bromiley

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