A library open for all of finals fosters a (stressed) community.
By Alison Robins
During finals week, students barricaded themselves on the site of the first Bryn Mawr College’s dean’s former home. For the next two weeks, the never-closed Canaday Library would be their office, dining hall, bathroom and bedroom.
Canaday, one of three libraries at Bryn Mawr, remains open continuously from the Monday of the last week of classes to the end of finals every winter semester. For some, the open-access to the study space and information trove is a blessing.
For others, it is a necessary curse.
“It’s a narrative of misery,” said Bridget Murray, a junior and a student worker for the circulation desk. “People don’t leave.”
In the wee hours of a Wednesday morning, Canaday was the great equalizer. The library could have been full of complete strangers, yet everyone had a similar story to tell: one of exhaustion and stress. Few escaped its hold—that is, until the morning light.
12:20 a.m.—“Wait, it’s 24-hour Canaday?”
The Lusty Cup café, located in the basement of the library, was abuzz with over 20 students as Tuesday turned to Wednesday.
All heads turned toward the door every time it opened to see who entered. Then, just as suddenly, the students would return to their homework, finals and Facebook.
“Wait, is 24-hour Canaday in session?” Asked Nehel Shahid, a sophomore. “Already? Sweet.”
Shahid’s confusion was understandable as the Lusty Cup, referred to as Lusty by students, was always open throughout the semester. The café aspect of the Lusty Cup—a student barista manning various coffee machines in a corner—was only open Sundays through Thursdays from 8 p.m. to midnight.
Shahid had just arrived, hoping not to pull an all-nighter. Last night, she stayed until 7 a.m.
“I’m more productive at night,” said Shahid. “It works for me.”
Her table, also occupied by two other students in this packed café, was covered in papers, computers and peanut M&M’s. One piece of candy flew from her hand to my face.
“Whoops, it’s that time of night,” she laughed.
Isabella Dorfman, a junior, was also unaware that 24-hour Canaday had started the night before. Her goal this semester? Not to watch the sun rise.
“That was awful,” she said, reflecting on her previous all-nighters. Yet, there she was, sitting at one of the available computers in Lusty.
“There’s a rhythm going in the room when it quiets down,” said Dorfman. She spoke about how the rhythm makes it easy to concentrate and get work done.
There are other benefits to the night owl environment: community.
“You don’t feel so alone,” she added. A beat. “That’s so sad-sounding.”
* * *
Walking through Canaday in the middle of the night was like being on a journey through a never-ending labyrinth. You must weave through stacks of decades-old books, dodge the odd carrel filled with tea and, sometimes, you locked eyes with another lost soul and felt a connection as if you two were the last people in existence.
Hidden in the back of the basement stacks, past Vietnam-era change machines, Bara’ Almomani, a senior, was passed out with her head on her laptop.
“I’m almost done…with my methods,” said Almomani, who perked up when she heard the approach of another human. She was working on her biology thesis, which was due the next day.
Behind her were whispering women seated at large tables. The table was covered in laptops, notebooks, papers, binders and drinks—in closed vessels, as is Canaday protocol. All their respective jewelry—bracelets, watches and rings—was off on the side. Nothing could interfere with their typing speed.
Committing to 24-hour Canaday meant avoiding all distractions: a difficult task, considering to leave even this floor, students must walk past tempting DVDs of distracting movies and television shows.
The library definitely had a different vibe during 24-hour Canaday, no matter the hour of day, according to its nocturnal student employees.
Kelsey Rall, a junior, worked at the circulation desk on the first floor. According to her, there were at least four times as many patrons in the library.
She would know: student workers must occasionally go through all five floors of the library to check for students and wake them up if they are unconscious.
The difference between the Canaday of finals and the Canaday of the rest of the semester was not just its operating hours, but student attitude.
“People are acting more tired and more delirious than usual,” said Rall, no matter the time. When she was working, it was around 1 a.m., a time at which the library is normally still open. Typical weekday hours are 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Rall likened the student sentiment during 24-hour Canaday to that of when children are given grape juice but are told it is wine. They act drunk, though technically they are not.
Kelsey Peart, a senior and a Help Desk student technician, had a more positive outlook on 24-hour Canaday.
“I like it,” said Peart. “I am getting paid to do homework right now.” Though the first floor was packed with students, no one was coming up to her for tech advice.
As most of the Canaday employees were also students, Peart noted, “I’d be here otherwise,” in reference to the work she had to do this finals week.
Though the Special Collections department was closed and the reference librarians had gone home, the Help Desk, almost equally unneeded, remained open.
“No one needs their passwords changed, I guess,” said Peart.
* * *
Mimi Gordor, a junior, was leaving the library…for now. She was coming back.
“I am in my day clothes and I need to be more comfortable to be more effective in my studies,” said Gordor.
Gordor lived on campus, so she could in theory just study in her room. But rooms have beds, and that was no good for her.
“My friend wanted to study, and I feel more productive when I am in Canaday for some reason?” Gordor said, her voice rising on the last word. “Just not seeing my bed is good for my study life.”
Was tonight an all-nighter in the making? Gordor was not sure.
“I will stay until the work gets done,” she said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the work so…until I’m fully satisfied that I have at least 70% of what I came to do done, I’m not leaving.”
Gordor had a portfolio due at the University of Pennsylvania in 15 hours. She was just going to stay and work on it until they kicked her out of the library—she did not know 24-hour Canaday was in session.
“Yeah, I was just going to wing it,” she laughed.
As students entered the third floor of the Canaday library, M. Carey Thomas haunted their very souls. That is, a bust of her face stared at student’s backs as they walked through the doors separating the stairs from the stacks.
One student sat in the stacks studying as the hours ticked on. She would not leave that spot the whole night.
More were collected in what used to be the old Language Learning Center, or LLC. Then, the room was a collection of Cold War era recorders and dictionaries for languages from Arabic to Tagalong. Now, it is a media lab.
Trios of large desktop computers sit under flat-screen TVs connected to the computer monitors. The middle aisle of the room was empty, except for the odd student or two lying down, racing to finish work.
The room had a downright cheerfully tired feeling. Friends lightly chatted while they finished work. One woman offered another food and some cookies.
The patrons all knew 24-hour Canaday was in session.
“Can you imagine 24-hour Collier?” asked Amanda Actor, a senior. Collier is the science library on the other side of campus known for being out of the way and a favorite of the post-baccalaureate scholars. A collection of voices answered her, comparing such a hypothetical to a “shit show.”
In the back of the room, Claire Craig, a senior, and Brittany Peña, a sophomore, huddled at their computers. Peña was in Canaday the day before for twelve straight hours—7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
“At a certain point, if I go to bed, then I won’t wake up early enough to finish,” said Peña. She got three hours of sleep the night before.
“24-hour Canaday is the worst,” said Craig. “It’s torture. It’s a form of torture.”
She continued. “They have 24-hour Canaday, and then the deans send out a message saying ‘Don’t be in the library for 24 hours,’ which to me is counterintuitive. If you don’t want us studying so much, actually enforce the recommendation that professors not assign more than one thing during finals, and don’t have 24-hour Canaday.” She ended on a sarcastic chuckle.
Craig referred to the Dean’s Office and the student-lead Honor Board emails sent out during the last week of classes. The Honor Board email, for example, reminded students to remember that the library is a shared space, electric tea kettles are not allowed to be used at carrels, to clean up after themselves and remember to shower and brush their teeth.
Meanwhile, Craig has stayed for 24 hours in Canaday before, minus exceptions for meals at the dining hall.
“It’s fun,” said Peña mildly facetiously as Craig twirled her on the rolling office chair.
The library would normally be closed now. Not tonight: 24-hour Canaday trudged on like a prisoner with a life sentence.
In the Writing Center on the first floor, one person slept in a beanbag chair instead of editing an essay.
Another covered her head in a scarf and wordlessly whipped out a family-sized bag of white cheddar popcorn. Food is not allowed in the library.
The circulation desk student workers had been replaced. The Help Desk was empty, abandoned and unnoticed.
The library itself was still full of students. Patrons had not left; there were many familiar faces in basically the same position they were in earlier.
Students subscribed to the unofficial 24-hour Canaday uniform: a laptop, large over-ear headphones, a hoodie, and a cell phone to the side in case an emergency Snapchat had to be sent. One woman began to talk with her headphones on, not realizing that she was shouting to her friend eight inches away.
“Self-Care” signs littered the walls with paradoxical pieces of advice such as “Call someone who makes you laugh” and “Disconnect from all devices.”
Gordor is back, like she promised. She did indeed change into comfier clothes. Nothing could tear her from her computer.
Check out any time you like…
The basement media lab, just outside Lusty, has been a veritable party all night. As 4 a.m. approached, a group of six friends stuck it out.
Jonetta White, a senior, reflected on her past 24-hour Canaday experiences: “I feel like when you’re here super-late, and you…feel like you’re distracted or you’re not able to complete your work, it’s like nice to be able to have, like, these breaks in conversation, re-energize yourself, and then get back to doing what you’re doing.”
“I think in some ways it’s not helpful…you have so much time to do so much work and I think that is not good for some people,” said Georgina Dominique, also a senior. “But, I think it’s also helpful in that it creates another, like, community space, where if you are the type of
person who can thrive or do well with that much time, you can find other people who are also doing it.”
“I’m sure there are people who would be staying up 24 hours anyway,” Dominique added. “You can take a break and talk to people and kind of have an outlet instead of being in your room for 24 hours.”
“Misery loves company,” said Crystal Des-Ogugua, a junior. “People are mad communal.” She talked about her experience with bringing her friends food and checking up on each other.
These friends would not leave one person behind. They made finals a team effort.
Of course, there were the weird aspects of 24-hour Canaday.
“For sure, I love it,” said White. “Except when I see people crying, that is too much.”
They had also seen post-baccalaureate students bringing their mattresses to the library.
…But you can never leave
What about the intrepid souls who stay all night?
“5 a.m. is the magic hour,” said Des-Ogugua. “You’re so delusional and awake at that point.”
“You enter into a stream of consciousness where all thoughts flow together and onto the paper,” added White.
Upstairs, Craig and Peña had their own harrowing tales of the dawn hours. The first floor is a “depressing graveyard of souls” from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m., according to Craig.
“It’s a real sad time,” said Peña.
“You feel like you’ve been hit by a thousand trucks,” said Craig. “Basically, don’t do this to yourselves.”
Yet, as dawn crept onto campus, these students and others still remained in Canaday library: writing, studying, crying and praying.