Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 29, No. 14. 1966.
"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.