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We had to camp outside the library to get this shot. Image credit: The Sinner

Library etiquette

It’s December, which means deadlines have started looming large on the horizon (as has Daddy’s credit card bill from all those balls). It seems now that you have no option but to start frantically procrastinating on that big scary essay standing squarely between you and a 2:1. Should you find yourself venturing up North Street to that big old 1960s building full of big old 1660s books, better known as our dear university library, here are some moves you should learn to make the most of your stay.

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The Gates of Hell Dither

It is important when entering the library that you do not have your card ready to scan yourself in; the customary response is to act with complete surprise when confronted by university’s state-of-the-art anti-terrorist entry system, an innovation from Principal Louise Richardson’s decades of terrorism research. Arrive at a busy period (say just after 10am) and spend a minimum of seven minutes emptying your bag onto the floor looking for that card thingy that gets you in. All the while, take extra care that no one behind you can get into the building either. Once found, swipe the machine endlessly until it lets you in, and be sure to saunter through the gates at a leisurely pace. You’ve earned it!

matthew maaskant, freeimages

We tried to get a picture of the turnstiles themselves, but photographers aren’t welcome near military installations. Image credit: Matthew Maaskant/FreeImages.

The Gauntlet

So you’re in. That’s part one: you are now in a key phase of library time. The central “social” area will contain at least two classmates you want to see, three you don’t, one ex-lover, and that guy who lived on your corridor two years ago and still remembers your name even though you’re fairly sure you never introduced yourselves. Negotiating this social obstacle course is easy if you adopt a determined gait, downwards-facing posture and classic “I’ve got a deadline in 45 seconds” facial expression. Be careful! Any visible weakness will be instantly seized upon. If you are accosted by any of the lurkers, you will notice everyone well else talking and laughing as loudly as possible; be sure to do the same lest you be discovered as an outsider.

abdulhamid alfadhly, freeimages

Stuck in the middle with you, and you, and you, and… Image credit: Abdulhamid AlFadhly/FreeImages.

Which Floor?

An appropriate seat is paramount to having a good time in the book building. As a matter of course, you should circumnavigate each floor at least twice before choosing where to sit. The top two floors obviously have an accepted silence policy, so if that’s for you, get settled up there, but remember to bring some loud food (Tesco usually have those big bags of Doritos on offer) so that people will notice you. After all, if no one sees you at the library, what’s the point of being there? That said, maximum exposure can be better achieved on the ground floor; not only does everybody pass through there, but you can shout across the entire area to get someone’s attention. It also makes such essential practices as Short-Loan Whoring and Social Lurking much more convenient.

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“I said shush girl / shush your lips / or I am seriously going to rip them off and shove them down your throat for you.” Image credit: Michael & Christa Richert/FreeImages.

Best Seats In The House

Finding a seat can be tough, especially since you’re only in the library at the busiest of times (remember: exposure is everything). During your quest, make sure you wave at each and every single person you know and (where inappropriate) complain to them about how busy it is, how impossible it is to find a seat, and how stressed you are about your 4000-word Psychology essay. Since you will have probably chosen the ground floor, the optimal place to sit is somewhere between the two computer areas, nearest to Short Loan. This has the highest footfall of any desk area and is acoustically the best place for your bellowed hellos to echo off the walls; if you’re sat there, people sure will know about it. However, it is usually monopolised by a combination of classicists and art historians, so you may have to challenge them to a shouting match to win their seat. Few have tried. Fewer still have succeeded.

We had to camp outside the library to get this shot. Image credit: The Sinner


There are a number of different ways to procrastinate now that you’ve got a seat. The easiest ones are asking the person opposite you what you should watch on Netflix, accumulating all the known books relating to your degree (never sign them out, that’s how they get you), and spreading your stuff out to cover the maximum amount of desk possible – I usually go for around three seats’ worth. Some of the more elaborate procrastinations employed include Skyping your entire family, including or sometimes exclusively pets; finding out if anyone in the same postcode is going to the Christmas Ball; and attempting to learn how to throw your voice (this last one is a lot more fun if you’re on the top two floors, but beware the wrath of the medics, who hunt exclusively in packs). If you are lucky enough to have a partner who will happily fritter away the hours sitting next to you, none of these techniques are required. It is completely acceptable to spend your entire spell exploring the deeper reaches of each other’s throats with your tongue, although it is polite to offer waterproof clothing to those nearby as protection from saliva splashback.

stefan gustafsson, freeimages

Yeah, the library staff LOVE scented candle study sessions. Image credit: Stefan Gustafsson/FreeImages.

“Butler’s, anyone?”

Lunch provides endless opportunity for avoiding work, and generally making people aware of your life. You can start around 11am by announcing your hunger, and bemoaning your missed breakfast, followed by a long debate with a friend (whom you will have specially summoned to your side for the purpose) about where to go. Around 12:15, if she has not left in disgust at your constant nattering, the swotty physicist next to you will whip out her Tupperware container of couscous and scowl at you for having the temerity to leave your books behind while getting a decent feed. Inevitably, you will end up getting an inadequate cardboard-and-mustard panini from the library café, mostly because the queue is so long that everyone will see you waiting in it. Smuggling hot food passed the library Stasi is a challenge for which I have no advice. I can only counsel you to improvise, and if you want to keep your fingernails, to not get caught. With regards to consumption: as far as I am aware, it is compulsory to eat in the library as loudly and messily as possible, although this is based purely on circumstantial evidence. And crumbs.

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You could probably say it doesn’t [drumroll] cut the mustard. Image credit: humusak2/FreeImages.

The Exit Strategy

You’ve probably managed around 300/4000 words of your essay by now, which means it’s time to sigh, pack up your stuff (the louder the better), and trudge dejectedly home. Many of the problems of entering are encountered when attempting to escape. The Gates of Hell and many of the lurkers have gone nowhere. If you’ve made it past 5pm you’ll notice the nocturnals coming in for their shift – they’re easily identifiable by their caffeine-ravaged appearance and unkempt hair – remembering of course to repeat your Gates of Hell routine, with added malcontent due to your excessive and evident tiredness, and then disappear into the cold autumn night.


This article was featured in our Christmas print edition 2014.

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