Lately it seems that I’ve been doing a lot of unusual things in the name of journalism, most recently it was the Butterfield Diet Plan. However, this is an altogether slightly more serious piece, delving into the library late one night, to see what people are really getting up to in the dead of night and why they are doing it. Starting at 11pm, I stayed in the library, ensconced in the history of art section on the 2nd floor of the JB, with the intention of staying until around 9am, when dawn has broken and the library loons have left.
Armed with my trusty camera, my laptop, a lot of coffee and a substanial box of various veggie snacks I hunkered down, complete with slippers. With the prospect of a 2,500-word essay looming, this seemed like the prime time to try and get it nailed down while doing my work for this piece.
It’s 11pm, I’ve just arrived in the library, traditionally home to the panicking third year, but at this hour, it is quiet and peaceful. Scattered among the bookshelves are those most rare of students – the night owls. Those studying into the early hours, maybe working on a dissertation or just keen to get their work done so they can sleep in even later than usual. At intermittent periods, the predators at the top of the library food chain, the night staff, work their way around the shelves returning stray books to their sedentary siblings and eyeing up the weaker stragglers desperately struggling to focus on their work.
At around midnight, reports came in that a Neknominate had just occurred in the undergrowth of the JB Morrell. Sadly, this wasn’t seen in person; however video evidence was recorded and uploaded. I rushed to the supposed location, but alas, the moment had passed.
As 1am approached, it was quite clear that people were still trying to work in the JB Morrell. They had left evidence, maybe a locked laptop and some notes left in a corner while the student had gone hunting, maybe for a vending machine to raid or for a smoke in the ‘no smoking section’ outside the library. Shortly afterwards, I went on an exploration walk to see who remained. After attempting several times to communicate I gave up, rejected by glares and semi-indignant looks; it was obvious I was not welcome at this particular point.
Shortly afterwards, I ventured to the Harry Fairhurst building, where the first floor was lightly scattered by people in hushed discussions. As I didn’t wish to startle them, I moved on to upstairs. There I had a short conversation with a postgraduate who preferred working in the early hours mostly due to the lack of distractions from housemates. We both agreed that it was the library’s near complete silence that made it a good place to work.
By 3am there was a significant lull, although I did manage to snag a short discussion with what I discovered to be that most rare of students – the desperate first year. In my nearly three years of university, I have only very occasionally encountered such a person. A first year that was actually completing a deadline in the library rather than in the comfort of their own bed!
I then preceeded downstairs to the cafe in order to acquire sustenance aka Dominoes with a Vision-ary who had maybe seen my plea for help on Facebook. At the same time I took the opportunity to approach and chat with one of the help desk staff in the hope of gaining any knowledge of unusual events that occur in the library at night. Apparently this isn’t a ‘spooky library like the Minster Library or Kings Manor’. A comforting piece of information as I continued my vigil, powering through with another hit of caffeine from the coffee machine.
While sitting in the café, I ended up chatting to a fellow third year who turned out to be in YSTV and was heading off to Somerset in the morning but also thought it would be easier to eat pizza and do any outstanding society duties. This led to the discovery of ‘pizza boy’; a one of a kind specimen described to me by the YSTV third year. As it turns out this particular chap had ordered two pizzas, then stashed them behind a Walls ice cream machine in the Costa café, maybe to stop fellow students from stealing his kill? Who knows! All I found out is that he returned twice and offered his leftover pizza to the nice chap from YSTV.
After obtaining yet more caffeine based products, I shuffled back upstairs at 4am quietly lest I disturb my remaining subjects. I did another quiet walk around the library but alas, there was no one new and the ones who remained were deeply engrossed in what they were doing… or asleep.
6am rolled around. The most rare thing had occurred in the library – the vacuums were out. Truly unique to me personally as after two and a half years I had never seen one in the library. I could hear the gentle drones of them on the ground floor, accompanied by the faint voices of two cleaners.
By 7.30am the cleaning staff, the new top dogs of the library, have bustled upstairs, and for a few brief minutes there was actual life in the library as staff merrily chat away while hoovering and scrubbing occurred all around. Quite a surreal experience when one has been sitting and working in near silence for the best part of nine hours.
8am – they say the early bird catches the worm, with the first keen sensible students appearing to start their day. Already we can see them interacting with printers, roaming more freely now that the library night staff have retreated, working their way through the hinterland of forgotten shelves for books that may or may not exist.
It was an interesting challenge, an attempt at documenting some of the reasons why people prefer to work in the library very late, even during a time in term when there aren’t many deadlines. I only actually met one student who was working on a next morning deadline. Obviously there were some oddities, such as the pizza incident but I did half hope/expect for a drunken crowd to come bursting through the doors, but in some ways I was reassured by how little happens. It does mean that the library remains a quiet haven for those who have work through the night, for whatever reasons they have. So there you have the pro-tip for the day: work in the library late at night. You’ll be safe.