Point 3) The library was at the heart of Dartmouth culture, physically, practically, and socially. Being “at the libs” was such a norm of our undergraduate lives. Even the most basement dwelling frat boy could be seen there, in line at Novack Café or checking email in the main corridor. I don’t know if they did work between these sitings, but the point is, everyone hung out at the libs.
The library was such a scene that it inspired a style known as Library Chic. This meant a cotton polo, loafers, and sweatpants for males, or a cashmere sweater, pearls, and Sorority butt pants for females.
The best place on campus to fraternize outside of the frats was the main room of the libs, 1st Floor Berry. There were public computers and desks—ostensibly for doing work, but no one did work on 1st Floor Berry. You went there to be seen. You opened a grammar exercise in your French textbook…
…and before you could conjugate “we swim,” you were chatting with your crush, making a pong date. Looking so good and Library Chic.
There were plenty of places to get serious work done. In fact, there was a room with the right ambiance for every mood, assignment, and objective. And they were all connected so you did not have trudge in your uggs between venues (during the 7 months of a year when it was snowing).
The Tower Room was on the top floor. It was dark, dignified, and affluently gloomy. Dust floated listlessly in streaks of sunlight from the frosted windows to the green velvet chairs. It was a good place for naps or to roll out a map to plan your world domination with whiskey and cigars. It felt very old and rich.
Sanborn also felt old and rich, but in a doily, lady way. It was on the first floor, where the air was light and fresh. Sometimes they left the side door open and a sheer linen curtains floated into the room, animated by the breeze. It was the place to write poetry, to contemplate Austen. It was the place to have afternoon tea and biscuits, and they did serve tea and biscuits, everyday at 4 pm for a nickel. It was too lovely.
Just through Sanborn was the 1902 Room. It was the only proper study room open 24-7, and so it was a cesspool of desperation and procrastination. The air was stale and the students haggard. Senior thesis writers would set up base camps, constructing towers of books like a mini-city. Inevitably, they would loose track of a take out container of pad thai somewhere in the towers, adding to the general stench of Red Bull and B.O. The 1902 Room was dire. I loved cutting through like it was a zoo. I only worked there the first week of Freshman fall before I realized there were 20+ preferable rooms in the libs.
I will restrain myself from droning on about all of the special rooms in Dartmouth library. I have such vivid associations between specific rooms and specific academic ordeals and social entanglements. I did Organic Chemistry on 3rd Floor Berry with Chemistry Boyfriend. I memorized art history slides in the stacks, but on a level that overlooked the main corridor through interior windows, for prime people watching. During finals my sorority sisters dressed up like fairies and delivered peppermint schnapps to work-weary students—Shot Fairies! I flirted with a cute boy across the table in the Reserves, before we ordered Gusano’s take out to the libs for our first unofficial date. We went to Molly’s for our first official date and then slipped into a happy and heartfelt one-year relationship.
I miss the Dartmouth library. I’m still a student and only live a couple of hours away. I’ve tried going to Hanover for working-vacations in the library. Usually I dawdle on my computer for an hour, then abandon the plan to take an eating-drinking tour of Hanover (muscles at Canoe Club! Margs and bread at Molly’s! Etc!).
The library is still beautiful—and even better now because there is a King Arthur Flour café that serves espresso until 2 am! But without the social component it has lost its magic. I can’t multitask working on my Physics problem set with finding a formal date. There’s no longer a charge—no potential for chance encounters with all of your peers.
The Dartmouth library scene is a precious memory that cannot be recreated. I like it that way.
And I have to confess, I always hated Library Chic.
Photo credits: Um, I google-imaged Dartmouth library.