Until I came to UF, I’d never had to ring a doorbell to get into a library before. That’s because I’d never been to the Grand Reading Room at Smathers. Sure, I’ve spent my fair share of hours at a desk in Marston Science Library or Library West, blinking under the unforgiving fluorescent lighting. I’ve breathed the resigned sigh that comes from realizing all the spots near a window have been taken.
While my peers have been going head-to-head in a battle of allegiance to the two main libraries on campus (who hasn’t been asked the classic question, “Marston or West?”), I checked out of the debate entirely. The day I packed up my laptop and headed out in search of a different library to call home is a choice I have yet to regret. Here’s to the other libraries on campus for their beauty and the feelings they’ve inspired in me.
Architecture & Fine Arts Library
If you’re not a student of the two disciplines in this library’s name, you probably don’t even know it exists. It’s a hidden treasure tucked away on the second floor of Fine Arts Building A. The first time I walked up the stairs to the Architecture & Fine Arts Library (AFA), I knew I had stumbled upon something remarkable. AFA is smaller than Marston or West, but that makes it even more of a special and intimate place. It also means that I’ve never had to hunt down a space to study. Those who have been to AFA probably remember its cubbies: small nooks stacked in two stories, the second accessible by a ladder. While the cubbies are a distinct feature of AFA that speaks to its eccentricity, they’re not even my favorite part of the library.
Among the bookshelves on the first floor is a section of desks facing tall windows that overlook the Fine Arts Plaza. When I can pause in the middle of my history notes to watch the pinks and oranges of a Gainesville sunset through tree branches, I know that I’m in a unique place. In the loft upstairs, I can sit in a desk that has a view of the work being done by other students on the first floor. From there, watching from above, I feel like I’m in my own private space. I feel unbothered.
Sometimes, when I am finished with my work for the day, I stroll down the aisles to browse the titles of the books and sheet music to which AFA provides a home. When I am in this library, I am studying mere feet from piano concertos by Mozart and books full of Georgia O’Keefe paintings. AFA, you’re more than a study space. You’re an inspiration.
The word that best describes my feelings when I am in the Education Library is “nostalgic.” It seems like a library from the backdrop of one of the shows I used to love to watch on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. You know, the ones where the school looks way too cool to be an actual school? The red brick interior and loft area remind me of a high school experience much more interesting than mine. The nostalgic feel is only amped up by the contents of the shelves. Among other things, they’re full of young adult fiction. I came to the Education Library to study one day and instead was entranced by a maze of titles that consumed my attention span during freshman and sophomore year of high school. They carry fairly recent releases as well, so it’s been great for when there’s a YA title I’m itching to try (ahem, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda).
The library is located in Norman Hall, which can be a bit of a trek. It’s such an interesting space, though, that on the days when I have a little more time, it’s definitely worth it. It feels a little like a smaller version of West, with a touch of that high school nostalgia. The main way the Education Library is different from West and my high school library is that I never run into anyone I graduated with while I’m there.
Some people refer to Smathers as Library East. It’s just steps from Library West, but the two feel so different from each other they might as well be as far apart as the East is from the West. Studying in the Grand Reading Room at Smathers is something every UF student should do at least once. The historic architecture of the building, which was opened in 1926, makes me feel like I belong in one of the books on the library’s shelves. Soaring ceilings, gothic windows and ornate wood paneling awe me every time. Venturing into the Grand Reading Room is an intimidating journey at first. I used to limit myself to the Latin American and Caribbean Collection, which is a special room in its own right. Bathed in sunlight and never crowded… what more could you want? For me, the answer was the Grand Reading Room.
Aside from the doorbell you have to ring to be let in, your backpack has to go in a locker and you’re required to sign in – oh, and no writing with pens. Yet, Smathers is worth it. Every time I go there, I happily cram my belongings into one of the tiny wooden books and relinquish all my ink-based writing utensils. The stillness and beauty of the Grand Reading Room fills me with a kind of reverence. My mind says, “This place is important.” Sitting at the heavy wooden table with its sturdy reading lamp for the first time, I suddenly felt as if my work were not important enough for me to do it there. Could I really sit in a place as gorgeous and significant as this to take an online math quiz?
The answer is yes. That’s the thing about the libraries at UF; They’re mostly public spaces. No matter how elaborate or foreboding they may seem, I (along with everyone else at UF) have a right to be there, even if I have to get buzzed in to enter. No assignment is unworthy of my use of a special library. No person is unworthy of the use of Smathers. That’s one of the things I truly love about it.
Marston and West will likely always be the most popular libraries for UF students. I’m not trying to take that away. However, I enjoy traveling off the beaten path. There, I’ve found some of the places on campus where I feel most at home. Thank you, AFA, Ed Library and Smathers for being what you are: special and sacred.