Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 14. 1966.
We expose the library cult — The 'in' thing — o brave new Rankine Brown!
We expose the library cult
The 'in' thing — o brave new Rankine Brown!
"Going to the library is sort of the 'in' thing to do now that exams are coming so soon." a girl in a trouser suit said to a friend as they deposited their satchels in the vestibule of the Rankine Brown Building. Six floors up, a haggard-looking young man was being evicted from a seminar room by an incoming class. Head bowed, he muttered to his feet: "Where can I go? In the whole library there's not one blasted seat."
These students are but two of a swarm which has descended upon the library in the third term. Constantly under attack for its architectural anomalies, the library is unquestionably meeting, in this period before finals, its greatest test. How is it handling the glut? More important, what is the atmosphere like for those who are feeling under greater and greater pressures as that final day draws near?
The first time I entered the library, I wished to consult a back issue of the New Zealand Listener. Unable to locate the Listener on the shelves of the periodical room. I consulted a librarian.
"Oh, they're downstairs in the cage." she said.
"I'd like to read some back issues, please." I said.
"I'm terribly sorry." she said, "but they do not leave the cage, and students are not permitted into the cage."
"The Listener? But how do I read it?"
"I'm afraid that you can't read it here." she said.
I was bowled over. At length, after consulting a superior, the librarian told me that in this one case they would make an exception, so long as I read in the cage itself. In short order I found myself locked into a small area of shelves, entirely surrounded by wire mesh. Imprisoned. I looked at stacks of dusty copies of the Listener and in my sudden loneliness, I had hardly the courage to read.
Fortunately, time mellowed the pain of that initial experience in the library. and my many subsequent hours spent reading there were enriched by human company more various and familiar than the lofty voice of M.H.H. A library is possessor of its own lares and penates just as a home is. But household spirits do not appear for strangers; you must live there, and watch, and wait.
After a while one realises, for instance, that the librarians are not cruel-hearted, officious bureaucrats as they might first appear. They are for the most part young women, who as one sees them stretching high to place a book on a shelf or signing out a volume with a coy upward glance, are full of tenderness and sensuality. Even Felicity M. Shanks, whose red-penned signature is notorious for its presence on "overdue book" letters, is in person so pleasant to look at, that if each letter meant a kiss to the receiver, then the library would get rich quick.
The students who study regularly in the library choose their own congenial spot. The fourth floor, where most of the books are shelved, draws arts students: the third. students of philosophy. The reference room, for some mysterious reason, attracts a combination of commerce men and twin-set and pearl girls. The freshers read in the study hall—too nervous, perhaps, to drift very far from their assigned reference works.
The periodical room collects a pot-pourri of serious and sociable types, many of them students of political science and current affairs. The ground, subterranean and windowless, is the least populated floor. At the tables sit an isolated handful of readers, their bodies bent over their books. Through the dark stacks, an occasional pair of lovers walks, and unabashed by a century of Spectators or the New York Times, they stop to seal a woo.
Safe in his niche, day after day, the student learns to chart the sun's shadows as they move across his reading room in the morning or the afternoon, as well as the gentle swish of clothing as people walk by his chair.
From time to time, visitors enter his sanctuary. They either talk in loud, deep voices and walk about as if they own the place, or they step gingerly, and identified by the nametags pinned to their chests, look politely this way and that.
It is rare that the student beholds a faculty member in the library. When he does appear, the professor usually rifles through a magazine and passes through. He has his research books sent up to his office, of course. But even though lie is by profession a champion of books, he does not show himself browsing through the shelves. Perhaps he used to browse, but his work no longer gives him time.
The most abundant food for the mind's eye of the reading student is, of course, the faces and gestures of his fellows who are sitting all about him. They divide themselves into nine essential types.
The library student par excellance, is the Grind. The Grind is the most hated type of all. and the most impervious to hatred. He reads for 10 hours a day during the week, reducing his application to four hours each on Saturday and Sunday. He always arrives in the library early enough in the morning to claim his seat of the day before. Then he engages in a ritual of setting-up. He places his books one on top of another, in the order that he will read them, with the exception of the last book on the day's list, which he uses as a prop to elevate the first. He ranges a collection of pens and pencils at the head of his pad. enough writing implements to last through the day if one should go defunct each hour.
The Grind then makes a final adjustment of his chair, straightens his pad. poises his pen and begins. Once his reading is started, his body never moves and his eyes never waver. He is never seen talking to a friend or taking a trip to the lavatory. You can keep time to his luncheon and evening tea breaks, for except for lectures, a quick meal is his only reason for quitting his chair. If you want to catch him in a human gesture, you must wait till late at night, just before closing time, when alone in the company of fellow Grinds, he has been known to remove a shoe and wiggle his toes. Once home and about to go to bed. the Grind will tuck his pyjama shirt inside his trousers and plan his schedule of reading for the morrow.
The type of student who spends the next greatest amount of time in the library is the Dilettante. You can see the Dilettante any day during the week, between 10 and four o'clock. He usually begins the day by reading the paper and pointing out articles of interest to friends, near whom he always sits. The Dilettante never misses his morning and afternoon trip to the caf for coffee and gossip. The girl Dilettante is a good dresser, for she must daily impress the same crowd of fellow studiers; the boy Dilettante maintains a sportive air by a weekly game Of squash. The Dilettante aims to establish a balance between the intellectual and social benefits of the library. His life blends solitude and colloquy. He intersperses 8 genuine questing after knowledge with easy pleasantry, or vice versa. The Dilettante lends to the library a certain festive spirit; for him. it is a very pleasant place.
There is a relatively small group the members of which pose as habitues of the library, but who are in fact Imposters. The boy Imposter comes in many guises; he may dress like a Rolling Stone or a diplomat. He often reads in a lounge chair, sitting with his legs sprawled, lurking to trip a doll who may come trotting by. The girl Imposter will sit at a table, but always opposite the best looking male she can find. She will apply herself to her reading with industry, but will never with so much that she might miss a friendly glance. The girl Imposter always sits with her legs crossed. If after a while she hears that male voice offer "Coffee?" she knows she has completed a successful session of work.
At this time of year, most of the students in the library are either Jitterbugs or Gleaners. The chance of finding both of these types at work rises in direct proportion to the coming of exams.
The Jitterbugs feel constantly lashed by the scourges of hope and fear. They read one book until they get so scared about how much they don't know that they quickly shift to another. The legs of the Jitterbug are always dancing, sometimes up and down, sometimes from side to side. A Jitterbug will frequently look up at the clock, which will tell him that his tutorial is sooner than he thought or that his reading rate is slower than It should be. The concrete library ceiling closes him in like a Bergman dream, where in a sudden spatial flip, he must make his laborious way along a footpath consisting of pits instead of squares, each one three feet deep. Paralysed by uncertainty, the Jitterbug will munch lifesavers and emit halting sighs. Every whisper and every little movement will distract him. At the end of the day. he feels he has accomplished nothing and he leaves the library with a tragic sense of his own doom.
While the Jitterbug page 13goes home at night feeling more unprepared than ever, the GLEANER will feel the glow of work well done, even though both have actually read the same amount. The GLEANER likes to think that he savours his material in his mouth, masticating carefully before each swallow. To keep himself fresh, he will constantly change the subject of his reading. The GLEANER looks up from his books a good deal, sometimes to observe through the window, a flood of poetic sensibility. The pastel-coloured houses of the city, standing in a cluster below him like a sultry Moslem town. Then he will sigh, deep and satisfied. At times, certain passages in his reading—so droll are they— will bring a smile across his lips and upon occasion, even evince an open chuckle.
The remaining types of students in the library are far from as numerous. The SNORER is usually an infrequent visitor, in any season. He may be fatigued from working at two full-time jobs, or he may the victim of an acute urge to escape. At any rate, the carpet under his feet, cushion under his seat, and warm, booky atmosphere have irresistibly soporific effect. The SNORER will flop down a chair with three or four books, intent on a full afternoon of swat, and then fall, within 10 minutes, most profoundly asleep
The atmosphere of the Library affects another type, the Nostril. The Nostril steps into the library for the first time a week or two before first exam, after probably having had to inquire the way. Ignorant of library decorum, he is liable to be seen munching a raw carrot or stroking his 12-string guitar. He looks around, bewildered by the determined looks on the faces that hurry. He notices large rooms which are as still as a mausoleum. He tries to recall what impulse brought him through those black portals on which was written, for all who dared behold. "In," Then suddenly, the atmosphere takes its toll. It will inflict a Nostril in two ways: He begins either to twitch as if poisoned or gasp as if suffocating. Within seconds he is in acute distress and led by his ailing nose, will speed directly for the "Out."
Sometimes a Nostril, impelled by a devilish urge, may loudly sing some portion of favourite song as he makes his escape, or if the Nostril a girl, she may contemplate standing on a table and without a word of warning, demurely removing her clothes.
The Brain is hated less than the Grind only because he is so rarely seen. When he does appear, however, usually for a maximum of half an hour, his hallmarks are very clear. The Brain only comes to the library for a specific purpose, to scan some forbidding volume which looks highly recherche and terribly complex. He will sit carelessly his chair, read with alarming rapidity and scribble a note from time to time in a manner particularly offputting because it seems that it is a thought of the Brain himself and not the author. When the Brain has absorbed his book, he shuts it with a poof, and happily walks away.
The last type, and the rarest. is the Dreamer. The Dreamer is prone to drag his feet and dress like a twit. Like anybody else, the Dreamer comes to the library to read his set books, but he is liable to forsake them for his own thoughts, oblivious of the clock or the industry surrounding him. The Dreamer is not known by the hours he spends in the library. But he can often be found on Saturday mornings, passing the time with a shelf of Roman history or French poetry. In the end, the Dreamer may pass his papers, but then again, he may not. His is a different kind of education.
If this universe were squeezed into a schoolroom, with books around the walls. Felicity M. Shanks looking radiant at the front, and facing her all these characters from school the grind, the dilettante, the importer, the jitterbug, the gleaner, the snorer, the nostril, the brain, and the dreamer—each sitting in his own distinctive posture, neat or sloppy, rigid or relaxed, and if Miranda, fresh from Prospero's tutelage, suddenly appeared, to taste of civilised school, she would not notice the flickering lights, or the water trickling on the floor beneath the door marked "Men"—or even the books. for that matter, She would look at all her classmates, and exclaim. "O brave new Rankine Brown!"