Memoirist, academic, and author Azar Nafisi (of Reading Lolita in Tehran fame) speaks of books as her “portable homes.” In a book signing in March at Left-Bank Books, she spoke reverently of libraries as places where our intellect, our imaginative capabilities and our ability to empathize grow and develop.
They are where we actually live and feel ‘at home’ when we understand that home is essentially a place of learning and comfort.
At college, libraries certainly are traditional places for students to study, learn life lessons and absorb knowledge. We can thus reasonably expect our library to have an atmosphere conducive to studying.
Pius XII Memorial Library, however, is not that home-away-from-home for most Saint Louis University students. Maze-like bookshelves that constantly shift, uncomfortable tables and chairs next to cold windows, and lack-luster walls form a stern, harsh space; students go there in spite of these qualities, not due to them.
While the atmosphere is better suited to individual studying, many groups of students feel the need to hold socializing sessions that become especially annoying for dedicated students during midterms and finals.
Apart from the general ambience, Pius lacks the resources to accommodate an undergraduate body of just over 8,000 students. The first floor is packed at all times, with our 60 computers growing faster as a valuable commodity than gold.
Tables and outlets are equally treasured during finals and midterms weeks. Private study rooms for group discussions are non-existent. Our meager book collection forces us to find other venues for our research papers and projects. For the books we do have, the library has taken what is a marvelous system of scholarly organization (invented by a certain Mr. Dewey) and turned it into a massive juggernaut of moving bookshelves; our mystifying reference sheets send students on fools’ errands as they can hardly keep up with these changes. When we take stock of our library and compare it to those at other universities, these inconveniences seem especially sad.
Loyola University in Chicago, Marquette and Washington University in St. Louis all have quasi-palatial libraries. Loyola has over 300 computers, along with laptops available for check-out. WashU has several libraries with multi-media production labs.
Marquette has a myriad of study rooms and electronic classrooms to serve the needs of their students. With all of the resources to accommodate their student bodies, these universities have successfully constructed productive learning environments.
Erudition and higher learning flows through varied channels to the students that flock to those libraries as regulars.
Here at SLU, students flee our brusque, inhospitable library, orphaned from what should be a comfortable study niche. We hope to see Pius undergo renovations that will reassemble, recollect and refurbish our scant resources into a state-of-the-art facility that students can find useful as well as call home.
We want to enter those doors and feel welcomed and ready for intellectual growth. We want to be welcomed home.