Those scholars in our libraries

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.

English: Steacie Science and Engineering Libra...

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.

43 thoughts on “Those scholars in our libraries”

  1. Reminds me of the movie With Honors starring Patrick Dempsey and Brendan Frasier. Sometimes a public place is not even public. its as great a place as any to nap! great post!! Why do we have to kick out certain people? Peace, cheers and blessings


  2. We don’t have cubicles like that in our library, but there might be some like that on main campus.

    During study leave, I traveled to campus everyday because it was where I was most productive. It was so lovely and quiet.

    I once tried to “rest my eyes” for a few minutes and my friend started nudging me and whispering, “You can’t do that here!”


  3. One of my friends once spent the night in the 24-hour computer lab. He crawled beneath the desk and pressed himself against the wall to hide from the security cameras.

    But that was because he was drunk and had lost his keys (turned out they were in his pocket). The man in your story has clearly had a worse life than my friend.


  4. I think the year was when I needed newspaper props for a play and in the library, the labyrinthine corridors and basements of ect. ect. they said someone actually lived. Like off the streets but they had never been caught. But you could see why in that place. It’s why I liked your post.


  5. that’s a bit scary…. but you feel sorry for them at the same time… If you ask me if you are going to go to a library to sleep you may as well read for a while…. Public libraries are the BEST. My dad used to tell me about how there were all these big armchairs at the oxford library, and he used to just sit in them and feel like he was getting smarter just to be surrounded by all the books that thousands of scholars had pored over for hours, the clock slowly ticking. I would love to have my own library, but for now I’ll just stay with the public service, which is actually pretty good where I live and also completely free. And people complain that we have a bad government. Ungrateful things. Love your blog and thanks for liking my competition post 🙂


  6. I remember falling asleep whilst doing some research for an essay. I must have sat snoring for over an hour and when I woke up there was a sheet of paper stuck to my face because I must have been drooling. This was in an open section of the library and no-one looked at me as if this was a strange occurence. People must fall asleep there all the time.
    As for the cubbyholes – I heard talk of much more racy things happening in them apart from research and sleeping.


  7. Heh. When I read this it reminded me of when I was homeless, and public libraries were a place that I could spend as much time as I liked in a climate controlled environment and read all the books I wanted.

    My first thought was, “Snoring? It’s guys like that who screw things up for the rest of us. You have to be polite, as clean as you can be, and keep a low profile and they’ll leave you alone.”

    Being homeless is a lifestyle choice for a lot of people. It’s difficult for the straight world to understand, but there is a lot to be said for a life without timeclocks and rent checks and plans for the future.

    I’ve lived on the streets in a number of different cities in the US, and while I wouldn’t go back to that voluntarily now (my spine has gotten too used to a bed) I don’t see those years as being a victim, I see those years as choosing to be free in ways that I sometimes miss.


    1. This is a very interesting perspective as you must be (an interesting person). I am sure that lifestyle choice you made made you have many interesting experiences that many don’t have. And I am glad that you found enough here in the post that resonated. I’m happy you don’t see those years as being a victim, but was that so because you had the choice (as many surely don’t) to choose one life or the other?


      1. I don’t know. I can’t honestly say that I have ever met anyone who had no choice about being homeless. Some people would have to do more work than others in order to change their circumstances, but in my tenure as a trustee at a Salvation Army shelter in southern California I don’t believe that I saw anyone make a serious effort to get off the streets who was unable to.

        Obviously, my personal experience isn’t statistically significant, but given the plethora of both governmental and non-governmental programs available to the homeless, I believe that most everyone can get the help they need if they choose to take advantage of it.

        Gathering accurate information is very difficult, because when you rely on charity you learn very quickly how to tell the story that will garner the most sympathy.

        Also “choice” becomes a difficult concept in terms of extreme lifestyles–I can’t judge if someone “chooses” not to do things that will improve his or her quality of life, or is unable to do those things, or even if my standards of quality of life are applicable to another person.

        Does a society have the responsibility to protect its members from the consequences of their own actions? Does a society have the right to criminalize actions based on their effect on the person acting? At what point do you stop trying to help someone who doesn’t want help? With limited resources, is it just for a society to offer aid without asking whom will most benefit from the aid?

        Tough questions, and I don’t have easy answers.


  8. I have to admit that I have done that on a number of occasions. When I was living in university dorms, I used to spend most of my time in library. On days when the outside weather was unpleasant or when my roommate had the room all by himself for socializing purposes, I would usually take a nap in Mathematics section in the library. Library staff was well aware of that and overlooked it on account of my dedication to reading books fervently.

    The worst days/nights were exam times. People – including day scholars – would occupy every little space in library and it would be impossible to sleep there 😦


  9. Thank you for sharing. It made me think of my University days as a Nursing Student. the library was always so quiet that it was easy to nod off. I enjoyed the heart warming story. Homelessness is all to well known to many and that is what is sad. 🙂


  10. Good post today. Here in Portland Oregon, we have a large homeless population encompassing every age group. Libraries, downtown stores, hospital lobbies. Our nation needs to address the needs of the neediest, and soon!


  11. So sad that some people have nowhere else to go on days when being outside isn’t, or shouldn’t be, an option. I see it in my own small town library. Great job capturing the heart and emotion behind the words.


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