I stood with my nose nearly pressed against the glass door, sadness and longing coursing through me. I was SO CLOSE, what I’d come so far to see was just on the other side of this door, and it was locked. And even if it hadn’t been a weekend, I still wouldn’t have been able to go inside! A sign taped to the door stated that members of the public are no longer allowed inside buildings due to Covid. Understandable, but disappointing.
So here I stood at the door of my undergraduate college library, it felt so familiar, yet so much had changed. Being in the neighborhood, I had returned to Haverford College’s campus to see the recent library renovations for myself and found that all I could do was peer at my reflection in the glass door, and come to terms with the fact that just as the reflection looking back at me was not the same as the college student who had practically lived in this building 12 years prior, nor was the library the same inside either.
In the middle of Haverford’s College campus sits a building that looks like the campus chapel. The stone exterior, vaulted roof, and long, narrow windows of the front suggest that inside you’ll find students involved in silent prayers. Stepping inside, however, you’ll discover students instead with heads bowed, quietly pouring over their books. The story told on campus is that at some point all colleges were told they must have a church on campus. Being a Quaker college, Haverford was not about to build a church in the middle of campus, so instead, they built a building that looks like a church… to house the library.
When I decided to attend Haverford College, I told people the reason was because I wanted to follow in alum and humor-writer Dave Barry’s footsteps. What I didn’t know was that I would follow his footsteps right into a library that would come to feel more like home than any dorm room ever did. Having spent the better part of each day for four years in this church of books, I have mixed emotions over the recent remodel, and renaming of the building.
I can safely say that since graduating from Haverford, I have not found a library whose study areas I liked even half as much as the ones the-formerly-named-Magill provided. And the architecture of this particular temple of learning had a profound effect on my study habits which remain with me to this day. In the large reference room under the high vaulted ceiling, much of the light came from lights attached to the tables. Their light formed a small halo around your workspace, limiting your field of vision to the matter at hand. To this day I find it hard to concentrate in a well lit space, because it’s too distracting.
The light to this room, which might have come from the long windows at the front, was partially blocked by a set of bookcases and a balcony fondly called “the boat”. Picture about eight evenly spaced parallel bookcases. Then put a balcony on top of them. Finally, add a curving staircase to the ground, one similar to that which a Disney princess might descend from. And the whole structure shook when a person walked on it, hence it’s apt nickname, “the boat”.
View this post on Instagram
In the recent renovation, the boat and its bookshelves were removed. Now light floods into this area as perhaps it should have to begin with. Based on the videos I’ve seen, it looks open and airy. While a nice change, I strangely miss and almost prefer the cozy dark interior I’d been fond of.
Turning from the front door, I decided to walk the perimeter of the library exterior, as it was all I could do. This had changed too. The back half of the library I had known was completely demolished and rebuilt with a new modern looking addition with walls just full of windows! This new library is so naturally well lit!
At the back of the library stands an arch, the only remnant left of a long gone greenhouse. Now, looking through the archway I stared at a wall of windows at the back of the library. That was definitely new. When I was at Haverford this arch stood behind a strange 5 story addition that had been tacked onto the back of the “church”. The floors of this addition were only accessed through an interior fire exit staircase which led up or down from the main floor. Each floor was dimly lit, and the rows of bookcases were always wonderfully deserted. And each floor was just slightly excitingly creepy in its own way. I loved it.
The first thing you’d notice on the top 5th floor was the floor to ceiling chain link fence that cordoned off senior theses, yearbooks, and other special collection items that took up a large footprint of the room. While this seemed somewhat ominous to behold in a dimly lit space, the strangest part was set into the wall on the other side of the room. If you proceeded to the back wall behind all the bookcases, you’d find a small door, Hobbit size. Opening this you’d find yourself looking into a dark space and at a building’s stone exterior wall and the floor covered in leaves. There appeared to be a gap between the original library and the addition that had been roofed over. Perfect place to hide a body.
The basement floor of this addition, similarly dimly lit and filled with bookstacks, in a back corner contained a small cinder block walled room and inside was just a single-person cot with a simple brown, 3-inch pad. The theory was that it was perhaps for women library staff that just needed to have a lie down.
I spent most of senior year tucked away in a rented carrel on the dark first floor next to the history section. There was one spotlight somewhere along the bookcase row next to my carrel, and hardly ever did I see anyone in the stacks. It really felt deserted. The only window to this floor was on the back wall in someone else’s carrel. One person could look out at the remaining stone arch of the greenhouse. The light from this window, however, was hidden from the rest of the floor by the bookcases which ran parallel to the back wall. Looking now at the wall of windows flooding light into the new library addition, part of me ached knowing my old study carrel was gone. It was time to renovate and modernize, but I wish I’d been able to do one last walk through the old space to say goodbye!
What I’d really been hoping to see on this trip was the new tech areas of the library. In my day… I often had to return to my dorm room to finish my work when my laptop battery ran down. Now the library has digital tech rooms where students and classes can collaborate using big tv screens, laptop desks that roll around, all in a well lit space with power outlets readily available!
As I moved from the arch at the back of the library to the side of the building, I saw the most astounding change to the library. There is a new cafe! And it has outdoor tables! Don’t tell Haverford this- they might revoke my diploma- but I snuck SO MANY chocolate breadsticks into the library in the evening from the cafe down campus. We studied and attempted not to drip breadstick fillings on library material as we studied late into the night. I would have LOVED to have a cafe just downstairs.
While so much has changed, and probably for the better, I’m happy to know that my favorite study spot in this library still exists. At the front of the library off an old fashioned room known as the Phillips Wing, is the Rupert Jones Study. Upon opening the door you walk into a small room hardly bigger than the rectangular table at its center. The room appears as though a gentleman’s study from the 1800s has been preserved and you’re allowed to study in it! While studying in there I always half expected a man dressed in an 1800’s suit to walk through the door at the end of the room any minute and appear shocked to find a female pouring through books on his table.
With this last memory in mind, I glanced again towards the front of the library, and the final change to the building caught my eye. This one I cannot come to terms with. Instead of the name Magill, a new name shimmered in silver on the stonework front. The extensive and much needed renovation was made possible thanks to a large donation from a wealthy alum, however this same generous donor also held a fundraiser in support of Donald Trump, a man who actively rejects Haverford’s Quaker values of “Trust, Concern, and Respect”. And now my dear old library has been renamed after this donor.
Now, I don’t know the history of Mr. Magill, so I’m not saying the library shouldn’t have been renamed at all. But perhaps it would be a good time to rename it after a writer? A Haverford alum author? Like say, Dave Barry? Who’s with me?
Leave a Comment!
Do you have a favorite library?
Like this post? Save it for later!
Harlan Jacobson says
Nice piece. I used to study, sort of, in the Rufus Jones Study at his rolltop desk. You could close the door. And have a whole room to work it out.
I used to channel Rufus’ spirit. I’d lean into the rolltop, squint to build up the intensity of my connection to the legendary Quaker professor of the College, strain with all my severely compromised might and would hear him on occasion whisper what are you doin’ here, busta?
So I’d grab a bite and return to the HJ Study, same thing as the Jones’ Study but with a bed and no Jones, and where at 2AM I could depend on the Eureka Moment—this’ll get me through.
A Suitcase Full of Books says