A Little Library Life: On Finding Sanctuary in On-Campus Libraries

My college career was nothing like the stuff I’d read about in books. My freshman year wasn’t filled with cute crushes and fun parties, but rather spikes of painful homesickness and awkward attempts at conversation. To cope with my loneliness and obvious lack of enthusiasm for big parties, I shut myself up in my room and killed hour after hour of brain cells by marathoning TV shows. While I had always been an avid—sometimes even voracious—reader, my sadness seemed to suck my reading appetite away. Safe to say, by the end of freshman year both my reading and daily life were in a slump.

It wasn’t until I transferred to a different school for my second year that things started looking up. I arrived on campus two weeks before the semester started, and the first place I decided to visit was the main library. Stepping into the tall building with sunlight streaming in from all sides, I felt myself breathe better. It was love at first sight: as soon as I saw those rows of bookshelves, I knew I’d feel right at home.

If you’ve spoken to any transfer student, they’ll tell you that their first year at the new school is a lot like freshman year all over again. While this is true (I did have to go through the process of familiarizing myself with a new environment), I was in much better shape both physically and mentally than I had been during my first year, and a large part of that was because of libraries.

They became my sanctuary, a kind of home on campus. A place that was mine. If the weather was good, I spent my breaks between classes on benches near the library, reading novels. As it turns out, reading Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore in the sunlight is an excellent way to spend an afternoon. On rainy weekends, when I was sad or lonely, I’d force myself to get dressed and walk to the library, where I’d prowl the shelves for something to occupy me. In winter, I’d browse with a cup of hot chocolate. I didn’t even have to worry about eating alone because I almost always had a book with me to keep me company.

I didn’t force myself to read books. If I got bored, I’d pick up something else. If a book demanded all my attention, I’d give it. Little by little, my screen time decreased, and I spent most of my time with my nose inside a book (which is another excellent idea—old books smell amazing).

Now that I think about it, libraries shaped my sophomore year. I got a part-time job working at the circulation desk of a smaller biology library. If I finished my tasks early, I would study at the desk. On days when I wasn’t feeling productive or didn’t have homework, I would crack open a book and settle in. This small library is also where I met my friend who loved books as much I do. We would spend time comparing favorites, swapping recommendations, and talking about characters like we knew them our entire lives. I have fond memories of quiet night shifts being borne away by our book talk.

Then came the day that I learned that our university library system partnered with the local one, and my day was made: I could read more books and request new titles! What’s more, the books would be delivered to the main library on campus! Suddenly every Friday felt like my birthday. I’d get a little automated voice message on my phone telling me my books had arrived and I would know exactly what I’d be doing that weekend. The computerized woman on the other side of the phone was my new best friend. She always called with such great news.

Gone were the days when I stayed up late marathoning TV shows until my eyes burned and my brain had no notion of feeling. I still watched TV, but it was no longer an unhealthy amount. I did other things too: I joined the knitting club, went to the movies and sometimes brunch with friends, discovered different kinds of tea and coffee. The only difference was that when I got home, I knew I’d see a friendly stack of books by the bed, greeting me like old friends.

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