Winning the battle, losing the war
Another dire attempt to conquer University libraries
I am going into battle against my own university.
Reason: two 10-minute presentations, three eight-plus-page papers and two upcoming final exams.
Location of battle: Alderman Library.
Yes, dear Hoos, I am going to the library — and we all know that means certain death. Send daffodils to my funeral.
As my dear comrade Boromir might put it, “One does not simply walk into a U.Va. library without expecting emotional distress.” The system always manages to confuse or frustrate me every time I walk through a pair of those obscenely heavy doors.
Usually, I pacify myself with the most tried-and-true of all lies: I’ll get my work done at home. It will be fine. Well, it is most certainly never fine. More often than not, I wind up plopped down on my couch watching “House Hunters International,” leaving my laptop — my greatest weapon in the war against scholarly trials — lying abandoned on the kitchen table.
Occasionally, my eyes will dart shiftily over to it, wondering why it isn’t writing my papers already. I thought Bill Gates designed Windows 7 with the sole purpose of providing college students a hands-off outlet for cranking out essays. Laptops are cruel and heartless pieces of machinery, though, and do not actually want to see you succeed. Evidence: Microsoft Word taking a lifetime to load. How am I supposed to get it all together if my personal computer refuses to work?
Armed with multicolored pens, Post-It notes and a spot of home-brewed coffee in a Disney World travel mug, I thus am forced to march to my death within the claustrophobia-inducing confines of the Alderman stacks. Really, though, those stacks are about as inviting as a graveyard — one even a ghost would avoid. You know your situation is dire when not even ghouls and goblins and spooks would dare venture into your newfound home for the next three days.
Libraries are dangerous. People get stinky when they study too long — I don’t blame them, though, since I fully understand what an arduous activity studying is. People fall down stairs because they haven’t been sleeping. People randomly attack vending machines when they receive the demonic message their thirst cannot be quenched because Cav Advantage is not accepted at said machine.
“How dare you flash that blinking ‘CASH ONLY’ message at me, Pepsi machine!” I want to shout upon discovering these biased vending machines. “Don’t you realize you’re only a hair away from every student on Grounds picketing Pepsi in the Amphitheatre and calling for a takeover by the effervescent Coca-Cola Company? I don’t want your bland Pepsi Max anyway — we want Diet Coke with Lime!”
Clemons has become a sanctuary for parched students on the hunt for intellectual stimulation. Their machines are fairly reliable in accepting Cav Advantage and their buffet of options will appease you until you’re able to get to O-Hill for Diet Coke with Lime. Clark is perfectly fine, I’m sure. I’m no expert. Greenberry’s aside, I always feel like a fully clothed sunbather on a nudist beach when I sit beneath all those naked ancient Greeks, or whoever the hell they are.
Alderman is much trickier to judge. On one hand, its pastry selection is on point and its shelves are piled high with legitimately helpful sources which could be the difference between an A- and an A paper. On the other hand, it’s impossible to get your bearings once you change floors and it smells like your great-grandmother’s attic.
I’m always tempted to bring a loaf of stale bread with me whenever I enter Alderman. By pulling a Hansel and Gretel, maybe I’ll actually be able to find my way to the exit without taking a wrong turn. A sign on the second floor once informed me the proper way to exit was to walk through a wall. On the off chance that doing so would put me on the platform for the Hogwarts Express, I gave it a go — but it was to no avail.
Alderman’s stacks pose their own challenges. Too often, I spend 10 minutes looking for a book because I can’t figure out where to find its call number. Is this the Dewey Decimal System? Are we still using that? I feel as though that should have died off in Aristotle’s time — which is to say, I feel like it’s a useless load of crap which will never make sense to 67.8 percent of students.
Not even my fantasy of a Julia Stiles-style hookup in the stacks à la “The Prince and Me” can convince me to spend a moment longer than necessary in that entanglement of knowledge. Even if I did have a shirtless prince-in-disguise by my side, I’d make my way to the exit as promptly as possible — though I’d still probably be stuck for an hour.
I’m now at the halfway point of my collegiate career. I should understand the library system. I do not. I hope you understand it. If you don’t, join me in my conquest against the throes of evil as I plumb the landmine-filled depths of our libraries. Into the Valley of Death march the 600 students — our glory may fade, but oh, the wild charge we shall make!
Laura’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.