Anika basking in the glow of a microwave lurking in the English Faculty LibraryANIKA GODDARD WITH PERMISSION FOR VARSITY

There’s a tense feeling in every library in Cambridge from late April onwards. It starts before C-Sunday and intensifies as the weeks tick onwards towards the exam period. Something in the air seems designed to induce a breakdown, and there’s nothing like the sound of hundreds of laptops writing at feverish pace to convince you of your academic inferiority. But unless you’re one of those lucky students who concentrate well in their room, exam term library trips are a necessary evil.

“For a sad little humanities student, the Sidgwick Site is the best of a bad bunch”

Aside from a few rogue lectures at the New Museums Site (where the Whale Café has given me many a panini lunch), the Sidgwick Site is where I’ve always worked. If I stay in my room, I get distracted or take unplanned naps. My college library looks like the inside of a padded cell. For a sad little humanities student unwilling to schlep to the King-Charles-approved West Hub – ‘Wub’? – the Sidgwick Site is the best of a bad bunch.

This does not mean, however, that it is an enjoyable place to be. A hive mind of stress hovers in the air, waiting to pounce on your mental health. The infamous Squire Law Library enforces a no-whispers policy by an unspoken student self-policing agreement. No talking? Seems reasonable. But no cough or rustle of papers will go amiss by those around you either.

Working in an environment like this makes breaks worthwhile and necessary. But the Sidgwick welfare budget doesn’t quite seem to encompass the yoga sessions and birds-of-prey displays that colleges are able to afford. At Sidge, we have to catch our breaks in smaller ways. Even a five-minute serotonin boost can give you renewed energy and a fresh perspective when you return to your poorly-lit spot in the corner of the English Faculty Library.

Hidden kitchens

The English Faculty Library, the EFL for short, is home to one of my favourite break-spots, the Secret Kitchens. On the first and second floors, hidden down a corridor, are two mini-kitchens. They are equipped with kettles, free tea and coffee and (wait for it) a microwave! Now I understand that other libraries are equipped with similar facilities, but this is a big deal for a library where half the basement toilet seats are missing. And no one seems to know about these secret kitchens, which makes me wonder whether undergraduates are supposed to use them at all. But walk in confidently, make your free soluble coffee, and leave quietly without any trouble. Caffeine and the knowledge that you’re getting your money’s worth of university resources!

Tea at three

Another slightly more obviously legal way to get a caffeine fix is ‘tea @ three’. This is common in many college and university libraries, but the MMLL library has recently been gaining a cult following because it does ‘tea @ three’ every single weekday. Monday to Friday, at about 2:50pm, a pilgrimage begins to take place as tired students wend their way to the raised faculty building. The MMLL library is a lovely place to be for other reasons, too. If you need to get away to somewhere quiet, the topmost floor is often empty and full of beanbags to work/sleep/get up to something suspicious on. In the lobby, they also have a pin-box for the RSPB, full of enamel bird and wildlife pins. This is admittedly a shameless self-plug, because I put them there, but they’re a very cute way to donate to charity and pick up a low-cost welfare gift for a friend who you know might be having a tough time.

Selwyn’s gardens

Bird pins aside, it’s often worth leaving the library to go on a walk in actual nature. The recently-reopened buttery (superior to the UL tea room, sorry) sells frappés, and the ARC café sells iced tea. If you’ve got ten or twenty minutes to spare, wandering through the Selwyn gardens which can be accessed via a back gate near the Divinity Faculty is a great way to spend some time in the sun. If you want a longer walk, there’s a path to the right of the rugby pitch on Grange Road that leads straight out across a stream onto open country. Ignore the sign that says “private land”. I haven’t been shot for trespassing yet.


Mountain View

Serene spots to escape to this exam term

I find that all these little breaks help me to see Cambridge as a welcoming rather than hostile environment during exam term. There are so many people rooting for us. Our friends, our supervisors (who often aren’t being paid enough for the work they do), the librarians who help us fund books and offer us ‘tea @ 3’. Even the cats, wandering around Cambridge looking for a bench to snooze on, are part of our support network. In small doses every day, and bigger ones where we can, we need to allow ourselves to step back and access these resources.