Library Life


At the risk of sounding dorky, there are many great things about the library here at Edinburgh University. Among them is the great pleasure I derive from walking between the unlit stacks of books, my motion triggering the lighting such that I feel rather omnipotent as previously dark sections are successively brightened as I approach, as if under my command. Despite the library typically being a place of quiet restraint, shushing librarians and, well, the general sense that life has been put on hold, I have always found libraries to be not only a terrific venue for people watching, but also, once you attune yourself to the habitat, a place rife with the drama of living.

Can’t find the library? This massive sign should help. Photo:

From befriending your cubicle neighbour in order to ask them to watch your laptop while you go to the toilet (a practice, that while always restoring my faith in humanity, is certainly questionable from a risk management perspective), to trying to hold back laughter as you watch a fellow sleep-deprived student literally unloading their wheelie suitcase full of books as they prepare for a day of scholarly pursuits, the library is a veritable hub of hilarity, spontaneity, and sometimes major awkwardness.

My most recent embarrassing encounters have involved inadvertent footsie with an unsuspecting business student, and a rather slapstick incident where a buckle on my backpack became unknowingly tangled in the window blind and I proceeded (at a brisk pace) for about 2 metres before the string became taught and I was jerked backwards as the blind made a terrible crashing noise that caught me as much as everyone else on the floor completely off guard.

But my recent faux pas pale in comparison with an incident last fall. My friend Ruari and I were studiously at work in the education library one evening when we were interrupted by the usual announcement that “the library would be closing in half and hour so please sign out any materials you need now.” We continued reading as we were, quite studiously, going to stay until closing. It would have been quite easy to throw in the towel at this point, as the announcements continued every 10 minutes, but we stuck it out with the intention of staying until closing in order to finish whatever it was we were working on. At 9:50pm, we decided to call it quits and packed up our bags, descending the stairs and making for the exit, pleased with ourselves for a good evening of work. It wasn’t until we reached the first set of doors that we realised there was a problem. We were locked in, and there was nobody in sight. Peering through the locked doors, we were confronted with yet another set of locked doors with a metal grate covering the only known exit. We looked at each other with a mix of ‘is this hilarious or is this terrible?’ expressions and then promptly decided that it was hilarious and began laughing openly. It was at this moment that we were confronted by a rather frightened security guard who demanded to know why we were trespassing in the building after hours. Unwittingly, I continued to laugh and smile as I pointed out to the now irate guard that it was still 10 minutes to closing time, a fact that did little to calm the person who held the keys to our freedom. In fact, he pointed out that since I was laughing I must “think it’s a joke and that I will call the police.” That kind offer was sufficient for me to no longer see the humorous bright side of the ridiculous situation and I promptly apologised and promised to never tarry in future evenings at the library, mumbling under my breath that it still wasn’t 10pm yet, even after this lengthy conversation. Luckily, he realised that we were harmless (if hapless) and released us from our nerdy prison.

But aside from the various social shenanigans that occur at the library, a more academic reason for my appreciation of the library is its uncannily large selection of Canadian books, particularly the size of its Canadian literature section (of which I am visiting quite frequently these days as I write my dissertation). With a few exceptions, I have been consistently delighted to find my search results yielding a surprising number of holdings, especially of books I consider to not exactly be modern bestsellers (ie. 19th century pioneer stories). But I also suppose that my being surprised and pleased at finding a Canadian section at the library of a major university is in fact itself quite a stereotypically ‘Canadian’ response. Who am I kidding, Canadians are proud and a little bit surprised to see themselves included in an atlas. “Oh look eh! They had room for us!” My humble cultural stereotypes aside, there is nothing that will stop that delightfully satisfying feeling I get when I find that obscure 1850 text written near Rice Lake, Peterborough, Ontario, sitting metres away from me on the third floor stacks. And the best part? I get to create light from the blackness as I walk through the aisle.

P.S Speaking of Canada and stereotypes, check out this Poem for Canada written by a Canada-loving Brit.

Some Canadians pleased to be graciously included in the Olympics