The Wonders of the Library

The wonders of the library

Photo: Mika Schmeling

It’s probably a bit weird, but I really love the library. As a third year who doesn’t live “in town”, it has become something of a second home to me this academic year. I love grabbing a coffee from the café and chatting with the staff . I love going for a little circuit walk in the silent section and swinging my arms around after a stiff hour or so spent hunched over my laptop. I love looking out over West Sands and watching the tides shift over the course of the day.

Things never get too boring in the library — a comprehensive and diverse catalogue of human experience is always on offer. There was the time I sat next to a person who, exhibiting commendably silent gusto, farted for a continuous hour. There was the time I accidentally informed someone that I was going to the loo.

There have been many mundane conversations in the silent section conducted through the medium of “Notes” on my laptop. I have included one such example here:

“has that guy taken up 2 seats lol”


If nothing else, this conversation which, though brief, still manages to be thoroughly passive-aggressive, proves that the silent section of the library offers a wealth of creative communicative possibilities. Other ways to communicate in the silent section of the library are as follows:

1)Passing notes


3)Morse code

4)Carrier seagull

The library also offers the prospect of fostering new relationships. One perk of regularly going to the library is that, over time, you can acquire distant acquaintanceships with fellow compulsive library-goers.

A “library fave”, which is a rather substandard but easily comprehensible phrase I have just coined for the purpose of this article, is somebody whose anonymous presence, for whatever reason, can make a bad day of work a little more bearable.

Some of my personal library faves include the smiley guy one floor up who once said “bless you” to me after I sneezed, and every girl whose bladder appears to be synchronised with my own — solidarity to you sisters.

There are probably hundreds of onetime library faves who have brightened my day simply by holding the door open for me. It is a bit sentimental, but the library seems to satisfy a need in me for real, if slightly superficial, connections with other people.

Of course, every relationship has its ups and downs. I don’t feel great swathes of affection for the library every day and I don’t love everything about it. I don’t love the fickleness of the turnstiles, or how long it takes to fill up my bottle at the water fountain, for example. However, there is a certain comfort in knowing that I can rely on these things happening on any given day.

During that strange week-long period when St Andrews was ground to a halt, completely at the mercy of “the Beast from the East”, everything felt a bit “off”. I went to the library on the first day of its reopening, and it struck me that there was a strange vibe about the place. I spoke to a friend about it. “I think it might be because the café isn’t open,” he suggested. I thought about it; he had a point.

With the library’s main consumerist hub closed, there was an eerie stillness which made me come to a realisation. In a funny sort of way, the library is a microcosm of “adulthood” in which we, as students, can play at being adults without any real, binding commitments (no babies will go unfed if we decide to sleep in, for example). We pick up our lattes and swing through the turnstiles, complaining about how much we each have on our respective plates, blissfully ignorant as to how much busier our lives are likely to become in the future.

For those of us who are here out of necessity rather than the desire to dedicate our working lives to academia, university is a bizarrely singular experience. As my final year approaches, I am thinking more and more about what will come after.

In about a year’s time I will leave St Andrews and university life behind forever. The end is nigh: I will soon have to pay taxes and worry about my egg count.

I suppose like any stage of life, this sort of feels like “it”: this is my life — this town, these people, these obligations. It is an unsettling thought that while it is the present which locates us, and the present which is our continual reality, it is also always shifting.

My present will never be the same again after today, but for the next year or so it is likely not to deviate hugely from my expectations. What comes after, however, undoubtedly will, and it’s quite a frightening thought.

This is maybe the main reason I love the library: it is redolent of a security I know I will soon lack. I love its dependable ugliness. I love starting up the path and seeing it looming in front of me, a great concrete behemoth silhouetted against the sky, rebelliously sandwiched between the almost impeccable architectural beauty of North Street and The Scores.

There is nothing precarious or quaint about its structure: it is solid and unchanging. In our fragile and often troubling times, these are two qualities which I am increasingly learning not to take for granted.


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