On Poetry and Culture Shock

Libraries: on the use of the space.

I have studied in three Universities: Seville (Spain), Aberdeen (Scotland) and Cornell (USA). In each of these universities there is a completely different concept of what a library is and what it is for, and it took me a while to adpat to the Cornellian model.

In Seville, a library is a study room. People often find it so hard to concentrate and study at home, that they commute for an hour in and an hour back every day to have some peace and quiet. Sadly, there are so many people wanting to do the same that on exam times (late January to late February; June; September) lines form some minutes before the libraries’ opening time. Many students have the horrible habit of keeping seats for friends. Be at the library at 9.05am, and find maybe one third of the seats taken by a person, and all the rest covered in folders, books and jackets, supposedly "reserved" for people who will turn up two hours later.

In Aberdeen, the library (wow, the library, there's only one, all the books together, I don’t have to go to the other end of town to borrow a book on Literary Theory that happens to be in the Philosophy Department!!) was a books’ warehouse with very few places to study and just about 20 computers, who were older and a lot worse than the ones in the computer building. For any Cornellians that may be listening, the Queen Mother’s Library in my mind is about the size of three or four Olin libraries.

In Aberdeen the problem were not study seats, but computers. The computer building was crowded during the day and the computer labs doubled as classrooms. I don’t think I ever saw a laptop in all the time I was there, although there was quite a talk of a laptop loan system to be used in the library. I wonder if that was ever done.

It was so puzzling that people didn’t demand more study space. After all, student flats were often noisy, cold and uncomfortable. I had friends who didn’t even had desks in their rooms; flats came badly furnished and they couldn’t afford to buy what was missing, so they lived in bed. The computers were a more pressing necessity because no one owned one and we needed them for our essays. So, we would go to the Library in the early evening, borrow a pile of books and take them to the almost-empty computer building, that you could open with your student card.

I needed a laptop to come to Cornell not because I wanted to have one here, but because I needed to make a vast amount of information portable. Then I got here and I saw that the study space was limited, but not as badly as in Aberdeen. I was shocked to see that people would sit in a place, and put their jackets and bags in the one next. Not to save it for a friend, no. Just because they can. And everyone keeps coming and going and making as much noise as they please (why, oh why does Uris Library have such echoing acoustics?). So, people study at home, I guess. Nothing new for me there. The computers are the surprising thing: there is a sprinkling of computers everywhere, but they are clearly not enough for even a tenth of the students.

One, two… Does everyone have a laptop? I mean, everyone? When I got mine it felt as if I was spoiling myself, just getting an expensive little toy. Here people are either very rich (graduate students aren’t, of that I’m sure), or they have completely different priorities that we have at home. Or both.

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