"How the UL has cared for me."Simon Lock

Attempting to cobble together my dissertation from home has made me yearn for the libraries of Cambridge. The warmth of the Haddon, the beauty of Zoology, the cosy Whipple. Whilst I have picked up many libraries as a historian on the hunt for spaces to be ‘productive’ or break the lulls of motivation, one library has been a sanctuary from the start: the University Library.

Love Letters to Cambridge

These are tough and uncertain times for us all, and a lot of us are left with little closure. Varsity are launching this series to give a platform to students reflecting on the parts of Cambridge they'll miss the most, and to gain some closure through writing. Just email our Features team with a 150-word pitch with your idea!

How aggressively Cambridge of me to lament the UL. Three years here must have taken their toll. But, faced with the prospect of completing a final year workload from my childhood bedroom – a space with no books, opening hours, or other students – has made me appreciate how good I had it.

I miss the ritual. Leaving the house to sort through my thoughts as I cycled. Keeping my distance from the taxis that always seemed to toy with the idea of taking me out. Seeking out the library’s largest lockers every time to feed some strange superiority complex. Choosing where to sit when there was endless choice. There was endless choice because the space itself was endless, and surprising. That a building which appears so straightforward and oppressive from the outside is home to so many different and homely nooks and crannies on the inside will always be the reason I think of it so fondly.

"How fittingly Cambridge that the University Library was one of the biggest social hubs."Imi Phillips

How the UL has cared for me. It has housed almost all of my books, even the extremely niche in its several Reading Rooms. It has the most beautifully useful and consistent opening hours, particularly in Easter. More than that, however, it has been the space that I have salvaged work that seemed beyond salvaging, and the space that has given me a number of stern talking-tos when self-destructive demons have taken over. I do worry that I will utterly fail at working without the infrastructure of a library to support and focus me.

Of course, it was not without distractions. God bless the UL Tearoom and the caffeinated encounters it was home to. How fittingly Cambridge that the University Library was one of the biggest social hubs. Indeed, it is one of three places on this earth where I bump into what feels like everyone I have met since birth, alongside the British Library and my local Spoons.

“Attempting to work from my family home, I do not have the solitude or the socialness of the UL.”

The social possibilities of the UL were a source of life and amusement when in dreary work holes. I did not need to plan ahead: I would see people I loved or missed and we would indulge in time, sipping on teas, discussing anything from drunken mishaps to passionately explaining our work. At other times, I would see people when I was very much still in library-mode. This mode occurs after not speaking for hours, working intensely and staring at screens, so that when you do bump into someone and attempt to speak, all that can dribble out your mouth are nonsensical sentences and a puddle of social awkwardness. Those interactions would have me in fits for entire days. The library’s silence would be disrupted by me chuckling to myself over the awkward half smiles, the raised eyebrows of recognition, the reply of ‘yes’ to being asked ‘how are you’. These moments do not exist in a lockdown. Getting my sisters to recreate them with me would not quite be the same.


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Mountain View

To the chapel choir that anchored me

None of the UL’s charms exist in a lockdown. Attempting to work from my family home, I do not have the solitude or the socialness of the UL. I do not have the pitter-patter of keyboards in the enormous Main Reading Room, nor the books to keep me company. I do not have structured time, only endless time, un-punctuated by cycles, lockers and tea breaks with familiar and unfamiliar faces.

I would not have needed a goodbye letter before all this. An Easter term of finalist revision would have been enough. And on the day that I returned all my many books, after the exams and the sprays and the Grantchester swims, I would sit down on those austere steps in the purple evening and toast a goodbye cigarette to you, my gigantic friend. After it was over, I would be content to cycle away into the buzz of central Cambridge, to celebrate the end of a chapter with friends that I love.

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