2002: Features (print version)
home in the Reg
it or hate it, College students still live at the library.
William S. Wan, '02
Ray Gadke, the Joseph Regenstein Library is more than a building-it
is home. Every morning at 7 a.m., Gadke walks into the empty library.
Wearing his trademark Hawaiian shirt, he slips on his sandals, reads
the Chicago Tribune, and makes his rounds on the third floor,
turning on microform machines and tidying up tables and shelves for
the morning crowd.
of the microforms department, Gadke, AM'66, has worked at the library
since it first opened in 1971, and after 30 years he no longer notices
the 4 million books or the 2,897 study spaces. He sees the library in
anthropological terms-as a microcosm of the University. In this 577,085-square-foot
cultural petri dish, Gadke, a former social-sciences lecturer, studies
the strange behaviors, social patterns, and life of the College student.
than 804,000 students, faculty, and staff swipe through the library
turnstiles each year and, on average, 2,258 per day. That number fluctuates
from the busiest day, Tuesday-when up to 3,500 students fill the library,
cramming for exams and racing to finish papers-to the slowest day, Saturday-when
the same students, minds numb from the week's work, will go anywhere
but the library and do anything but study.
are rumors around campus of students who never leave the library-those
who have found intellectual nirvana in the Regenstein's hidden corners
and now meditate on Plato, organic chemistry, and linear algebra in
straight 12-hours sets. But for the average student, the library is
less a temple and more a dorm away from dorm. Many spend whole days
there. Most have picked a favorite floor and table and claimed them
as their own.
is it about the library that moves so many to call it home? I decide
to find out, walking in Gadke's footsteps past the deeply grooved limestone
walls, through the turnstiles, and into the world commonly known at
the University as the Reg.
the regulars on this particular Tuesday late in fall quarter, Ben Carroll,
a comparative-literature concentrator, finds his spot on the fourth
floor with practiced familiarity. "I practically live at the Reg,"
explains the fourth-year. "It's my one-stop place for socializing,
napping, and researching. At my dorm there's too much distraction. Harper's
too social. And Crerar's too quiet," he adds, dissing both the
College's Harper Memorial Library and the science divisions' John Crerar
Library. "The Reg has just enough distraction."
most tempting distractions are the plush sofa chairs by the windows
on every floor. Their soft red, blue, and gray seats beckon the weary
student. "Sleep," they seem to say.
A veteran library sleeper, Catherine Shim hears the call all the time
and says she responds all too often. Her favorite technique is pulling
together two chairs and catching blissful Zs between the cushions. "But
I can just fall asleep anywhere," says Shim, '03. "Tables
are good too. You just have to make sure you don't drool." And
for that eventuality, Carroll offers this advice: "If you put your
sweater on top of a Harrap's French dictionary, it makes a perfect pillow."
a different technique on the fifth floor, Vikram Nidamaluri sits before
his laptop, head in his hands, closed eyes still facing the screen.
He has fallen asleep writing a paper due the next day. When he wakes
up, the first-year smiles wanly and explains, "I haven't slept
the last two days
tonight I'm averaging 30 minutes per paragraph,
so just two more hours and I'll be done."
fifth floor has a reputation for hard-core students like Nidamaluri.
Offering texts from distant Asian countries, the floor itself is an
exotic land. During final exams, students' desks seem more like makeshift
dorm rooms, complete with personal minilamps, alarm clocks, blankets,
Wen Ling, a die-hard fifth-floor fan, sets up her cubicle with a laptop,
CD player, headphones, and fluffy jacket for a pillow. "But I'm
not that bad," the third-year whispers, pointing to others around
her. "I know some on this floor who even keep a change of clothes
and toothpaste in their lockers."
beige lockers, stacked four high, stretch in long rows throughout the
library. Each stands about seven books high, 20 books wide, and five
deep, but even that's not enough for Colleen Daly, who is considering
a second locker. She seems slightly embarrassed as she turns the latch
to reveal a cubby overflowing with texts. She rented the $4-per-year
locker when she started on her B.A. thesis over summer. With the thesis
due soon, Daly, '02, has studied in the Reg every day of fall quarter,
holing up in her favorite cubicle with a stack of books. Staring at
the piles still waiting, Daly sighs, "There are definitely times
when I feel like I should be doing more."
the smell of books, such guilt seems to permeate the Reg's atmosphere.
With computers, friends, and sofa chairs conveniently near, students
are always just an e-mail, conversation, or nap away from procrastination.
Alejandro Ortiz, another library regular, says guilt is useless and
unproductive. He considers himself a guru of sleeping and studying at
the library-skills he's been developing since high school. "When
I fall asleep studying, I wake up automatically in 20 minutes,"
he says. "It's like my body just knows I can't afford to miss time."
orderly person who keeps his glasses wiped clean and his hair brushed
in neat lines, Ortiz has strict study habits. He sets up books, fruit,
and a water bottle at his table and checks e-mail beforehand so he won't
have excuses to get up. After three years in the College, Ortiz has
his cramming formula down pat. "Past 18 hours of work, the perfect
nap is an hour and 15 minutes," he explains. "Your learning
curve decreases the more sleep-deprived you get."
most students, Ortiz describes his chosen study spot in personal terms.
"I'm a third floor kind of guy," he says. The third floor
represents a compromise-a Taoist balancing of priorities. "It gets
quieter the higher you go up, but the pretty girls are usually on the
through the different levels, I see the Reg's social pockets unfold
like layered civilizations in an archaeological dig. History graduate
students pore over their research on the third floor. Members of the
Greek system dominate the second. On the first floor a group of Asian
students discusses its migration this year from the second floor. "A
little noise is good," says one. "Two's always been overrated
basement's upper floor, A-level, is mostly filled with economics majors
and business school students. For every person who passes through the
double-door entrance, students glance up from their books, and the new
entries are either dismissed or filed away for future reference. Longtime
A-leveler Dan Egel, '02, notes, "The girls are always looking at
the guys, and the guys are definitely looking at the girls."
library has always been the social center of the campus, says Gadke-who
was a graduate student when the Reg first opened-"so it becomes
the arena when people want to deliver a message or want an audience."
During the student protests in the 1970s, he recalls people pulling
fire alarms almost every day, and every spring fraternity pledges streaked
naked through the library. In the 1980s there were reports of a shoe
thief prowling the Reg, preying on students who removed their shoes
to study. According to Gadke, when police eventually caught the culprit,
they found his apartment overflowing with footwear.
the most recent prank library staff remember-besides the track team's
annual streaking, which they try to forget-two years ago students sneaked
in small chickens and set them loose on the third floor. Tyjuan Edwards,
who was working at the circulation desk, remembers seeing the little
balls of fluff. "I didn't have to catch them myself," says
Edwards. "Not that I'm scared. I just don't like grabbing livestock."
purists, who shun this social side of the Reg, find refuge in the book
stacks on the west half of every floor but the first. The stacks' abandoned
rows of books are ghostly silent, except for the steady hum of the ventilation.
Student worker Angela Zielinski is one of the few inhabitants of this
dark underworld. The second-year glides between rows, jamming to her
headphones while shelving returned books. "At night it gets a little
creepy because it's so quiet and dusty," she admits. "But
you get a lot of time to think. I work on math problems while shelving.
I take Attic Greek too, so sometimes I decline nouns in my head."
year the library system hires 235 student workers like Zielinski to
do everything from cataloguing new books to uploading scanned texts.
Most jobs pay $8.67 to $9.27 an hour, but some, requiring specialized
skills such as language translation, cross the $10 mark.
book stack department hires the most students, 45 per quarter, and for
the long-distance shelver the job can often be depressing and lonely.
Full-time managers give frequent pep talks to motivate student workers
and encourage shelving together to ward off boredom. "It can be
a depressing job because the books just keep coming and never end,"
Zielinski says. "You have to remind yourself that what you do is
. It's like Plato-shelving is for the common good, for
the good of the state."
time the job becomes a test of the soul and will. For some, long-term
exposure makes them indifferent to the cause. For others, the work becomes
an almost sacred task. "For people with obsessive-compulsive tendencies
like me, it's a perfect job," says Zielinski. "I think of
myself as the guardian of books."
shelvers are the Reg's sacred guardians, workers at Ex Libris are the
sacrilegious jesters. Manager Lauren Kroiz says the student-run, University-funded
coffee shop is much more than a business. "I don't know if it's
really a charity, business, or support group," says the fourth-year
art-history concentrator. "It's like a club where people come to
hang out." Most of the staff show off their Ex Libris pride by
wearing the shop's eX logo on backpacks, pants, and T-shirts. White
and gray eX socks dangle from the door, a handwritten sign offering
them for $2 a pair.
just below the lobby, the eccentric café is covered with other
quirky, homemade signs. A Polaroid by the Thai food shows an employee
squished onto the bottom rack of the fridge. The caption reads, "Where
are your children right now?" Another sign in orange and black
warns, "What if napkins were made of people?!?
YOU COULD BE
shop is famous for its edgy personality, says Cian O'Day, who has worked
there for two years. "We pride ourselves on giving our customers
a little attitude. I mean, what's more memorable: a 'please' and 'thank
you' or throwing a curveball in their day that will stick in their minds?"
of the curveball pranks have become legendary among employees. O'Day,
a history concentrator, opens the file cabinet to show a Saran-wrapped
plastic cup labeled "Gene's soul." He explains that bored
employees once advertised free food for customers willing to sell their
souls. "We ended up getting eight or 11 souls before we got in
trouble with the manager," says the fourth-year. "Needless
to say, most of the signers were people from the B-school and Law School."
it's all serious work now," claims O'Day, while another employee
smirks and shakes her head behind him. The conversation among staff
slowly drifts to faith in God and disillusion with society to boyfriends
and strange customers.
"We talk about the customers a lot," admits Susan Catapano,
a second-year employee. "Everyone knows Decaf Guy," she says,
referring to a customer who exclusively buys raisins and decaffeinated
coffee. "Then there's Excessively Meek Woman, The Three Nice Ladies,
and Medium Man."
Quarter Man," adds O'Day. "He buys one bagel, takes like 14
things of cream cheese, and wants all our new quarters
the ones with state landmarks. But he's really nice-nice but eccentric."
description fits the employees just as well as the customers. The workers
find themselves at the shop-even on days they don't work-just to hang
out and check in with their friends. Relaxing in a chair in the back
room, Catapano explains, "The library is my home. This is just
my living room."