Cruising Yale’s libraries

Libraries are more than lux, for they are sometimes underground and open very late, and veritas, for they are also places of make-believe. Wishbone and Reading Rainbow told us as precocious children that libraries were gateways to fantastic worlds of fun and adventure and pirates. As college students, we have Bass Café, where Yalies can drink coffee and eat cellophane sandwiches and imagine that they are people watching at Place Saint-Sulpice or the Piazza San Marco. And then remember that they are really only looking up from a Facebook newsfeed to watch another sad soul enter a subterranean library in New Haven.

But still there is validity to this vigil, and not just because you’re like, totally majoring in anthropological sociology. Yale libraries are something between a watering hole, battlefield, funhouse, and red-light district, except that none of those places have books and leather sofas, too.

Only the foolish think of hushed silence when they think of libraries — for the sounds of Bass, that popular den of learning, are wondrous. The wailing ATM is just the beginning. The non-conformists and post-consumerists can grimace and gripe about the sound of several dozen Macs “waking up.” The Mac users can pip-pip-pip their volume controls in clucking unison at the sight of a lone Dell breaking hipster shibboleth. The more irritable among us can glare at the telltale treading of a very small girl hobbled by her very large boots as she crosses the upper level’s stone floor. The musically inclined can appreciate the swine flu soundtrack as other students happen to hack in harmony.

The cast of characters is varied: the sleeping wretch in the corner chair, the formula mumbler, the aggressive whisperers, and of course, the hypercompetitive reader who will flip (faster than you) through his/her textbook (bigger and scarier than yours) until his/her vigor betrays him/her and he/she rips a page. Of course, if you’re looking for a more uniform demographic, the Yale Center for British Art has plenty of old people, and the Haas Family Arts Library is filled with students who will quickly make you feel fat and unstylish (but well-rested).

There is a certain choreography to it all. Each night I traipse fruitlessly up and down a row of cubicles. Competition is fierce. I have been pushed out of the way by someone who wanted it more. Or, if I manage to secure an open carrel, I discover the desk is covered in pubes. Cute.

But sometimes the detritus is a little more charming, like the time I found bits of cupcake crumbs and maybe ate them. Other times, if fortune allows it, I like to play word games with the titled spines of books left by previous occupants: “Votes for Women” on top of “Foolishness to the Greeks.” Historical feminist humor! The real reason I prefer the carrels, though, is because I was ridiculed at a large study table when I pulled up Leighton Meester’s MySpace to check out her new single, “Somebody To Love.” It wasn’t worth it.

The library is full of lessons. The stacks have taught me that it’s less embarrassing to pretend to have found a book than to walk away empty handed, that I can’t distinguish four digit numbers from three, that I have a loose grasp of the alphabet, and that there are some very lonely people loitering around Lester B. Orfield’s monograph on Danish law (To prurient readers who can’t use Orbis: it’s in Sterling, Floor 7, Mezzanine — filled with nooks for canoodling). Thus it is that our sanctums of higher learning double as cruising spots for the sad and yearning.

But good things cannot last forever. In fact the Bass PA system/supermarket loudspeaker reminds us that it closes at 1:45 a.m. in their nightly, unloving broadcasts that just cry out to be remixed and autotuned. We pass by the security guards, sentinels whose dedication to careful inspection runs the gamut between a full cavity search and the amount of attention a sober, homely girl could hope for at DKE. We lament the closing hour of Ye Olde Durfee’s Sweete Shoppe of Confection, which has too many vowels and a screen door of debatable utility. We brave the streets. Studies complete, we schlep to sleep.

Cassius Marcellus Cornelius Clay is eating cupcake crumbs in a carrel.

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