University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill - Wilson Library
In college I studied in what was called "the stacks" at the old, old library on campus. While the main reading room was a glorious, windowed hall with long, dark study tables and those perfect little click-on study lamps, the marble floor worn and rubbed by generations, it was upstairs in the Tower that I preferred. You took an elevator to the seventh or eighth floor, I believe, and walked a labyrinth of aisles and shelves of books in dim lighting to the carrels lining the walls. Some of the carrels were metal but more were wood and they were pockmarked and pencil-bit with the graffiti of generations of students. I was one of those people who loved school, loved the actual work, the studying, the piles of books and notebooks, the perfect pen with which to take notes, the yellow pads to write my papers, the little lined books whose name I've forgotten that we used for tests. While some of the carrels were lit by daylight from dirty windows, the place was very dark and spooky at night. It was completely quiet in the carrels, the only sound the turning of pages, the coughs and raised whispers only punctuated the silence. When I'd get tired or sleepy, I would stand up and wander down the aisles, pulling down musty texts and fingering yellowed pages. It was thrilling, actually, to be alone with all those books, the kind of loneliness that settles warm in the body and stays there.
I also loved the carrels because that's where I'd find my boyfriend, equally scholarly except for a not too tiny penchant for smoking the evil weed. When I still had only a crush on him, I'd sidle by his carrel and pretend that I didn't see him, placing my stack of books around the corner where I'd wait until he'd find me. And when it all really started, there was a dark and exciting intimacy to kissing at those ancient desks.
The library was only open until 11:00 and some minutes before, an old man, I swear, would walk the stairwells and into the stacks, swinging a cowbell. He had a long, Dickensian face and even now I can hear that sound and see his stooped thin body, but I wonder, too, if I've made him up. We'd spill out of our carrels, because who, really, wanted to actually spend the night there, our papers and books shoved into backpacks and wander down, getting into a long line that passed a small desk where library moles made cursory checks ensuring that we hadn't stolen anything precious. In the last year of college, the library Tower was closed and I abjectly began to study in the new, modern library across campus.
I thought about all of this the other day when I clicked on one of my favorite online sites. It's called Typo of the Day for Librarians.
My secret fantasy is to be a librarian. Just me, with my glasses on, quiet, and a lot of books.