A lot has changed in my (almost) four years at the University of York. I’ve gained friends, other people’s kitchen utensils, Nouse office key cards, and at times lost all three. But with exam season upon us it seems an appropriate moment to reflect that no one has had a more enduring influence on my time at university than Messrs. Morrell, Fairhurst and Burton.
Don’t be fooled by the friendly facade. A masterpiece of modernist architecture, a far cry from the pebble-dashed brutalism that dots the skyline from its eternally calm smoking area, the library projects enough round-the-clock light pollution to shame Tokyo city centre. ‘Come in’, it seems to say, ‘I won’t bite’. Oh library, I know you better than that.
But there’s a more serious point here: spending every waking moment poring over the Key Texts section is simply not a healthy way to live your life. True librarying is a solitary existence: a self-imposed exile that leaves you alone with your waning discipline, a clandestine bag of Nisa snacks, and perhaps a piece of software to silence the temptations of social media. Even in dead-end office jobs you get meetings, briefings and gossip by the water cooler. In the library, talking is so synonomous with procrastination that you’re usually forbidden from doing it altogether.
It’s a further cruelty that students and schoolchildren alike are expected to be most library-bound during the Summer Term, when natural positivity and vitamin D production should be at their highest. As the sun beats down outside we perch resentfully on whichever desk-cum-armchair we got up at 7am to claim, growing steadily more hermit-like with every hour.
I admit I’ve spent a lot less time in the library than some, and a few lonely days in Burton are a small price to pay for the extra-curriculars and life experiences university has offered. But the mental health crisis at British universities is happening for a reason and, unless you really love your course, spending days on end with no exercise, sunlight or social contact seems a pretty good way of adding to it.
No other stage of life compares to the barren structurelessness of a doing humanities degree: you always should be working but rarely have to, creating the bizarre dichotomy of being constantly stressed while also having way too much time. Degrees are now such a necessary qualifiaction that most people go to uni to get one rather than to study something they love, and with MAs increasingly helpful for the CV the library’s shadow may lengthen yet further.
So every now and then, through this stressful time, ignore the niggling voice calling you back to the dusty corner of Morrell that has become your home. You’re young. The library is not your natural habitat.