I was sitting at a university library in a small, white cubicle a few years ago. Those cubicles were just big enough for one person to sit in with a ledge that served as a table and a shelf above the ledge that held books. Under the table-like shelf were plug points for laptops. These cubbyholes were highly prized and had to be applied for way in advance. Only very few people ever got one allotted to them. The tops of the cubicles were open and there were locks on every door. The keys were the coveted prize.
Anyone who has been to a university library will be familiar with these cubbyholes for scholars who want privacy or maybe a space to keep their books on location so they don’t have to lug them around.
I had some interesting experiences when I sat in those cubicles since I could hear people in the other cubicles. Usually, these would simply be students whispering on their cell phones, scholars muttering to themselves or two students who had somehow squeezed into the small space discussing homework.
But that day I heard a strange whooshing sound from a neighbouring cubicle. At first it seemed like rushing air out of the AC vent, soft and rhythmic. But soon the crescendo increased to a low growl and then the volume kept increasing and increasing until it was like a loud trumpet in the room.
The sound was unmistakable.
Someone was snoring loudly.
I heard several giggles from the neighbouring cubbyholes and some jokes. A student was probably taking his afternoon nap in one of the cubicles.
After about half an hour of that sound though, I heard the thump-thump-thump of heavy boots outside my closed door. The sound stopped suddenly and there was an exchange of rough voices and a few mumbles. Some silence followed and then the mumbling voice was escorted out by the voices belonging to the heavy boots.
Later I heard that a man with no identification had been sleeping in a cubicle.
I don’t know why that incident stayed in my mind a long time.
When I visit public libraries now, I see more people sitting, waiting. They don’t look busy, nor do they seem interested in the books. They are there on the hot afternoons and the cold evenings and the rainy days. Sometimes, a person working for the library will come and say something to wake them up. If it’s a tired student or an older, retired person spending the afternoon at the library with a book, they will exhibit an embarrassed smile and sit up.
But if it’s a man like the man I heard in the cubicle, he will show perseverance.
It will look like he is used to being woken up and very used to spaces in libraries where he can rest, be they a scholar’s accidentally unlocked cubbyhole in the exclusive floors of university libraries, the reference-only sections with the encyclopedias in the public libraries, the computer floors with the online catalogues in the technical libraries or the archival sections of the research libraries with microfilms on the cumulative scholarship of our civilization from ages past.