It’s a sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, but from the inside of Northwestern’s infamous Deering Library, you could hardly even tell. Frosted glass tiles fitted together make up 11 floor-to-ceiling arched windows. Barely visible is the view of a two-acre meadow separating the quiet of the library and the chaos of Sheridan Road. Crusty vines creep over these murky windows, remnants of winter and a sluggish spring that isn’t quite here yet.
The occasional ray of light hits the large wooden tables nearest to the windows in streaks, but for the most part, the cathedral-like stained glass makes for what seems like a gloomy Friday afternoon. It’s because the wind is howling. It slaps the outside of the library so harshly that it echoes through the halls inside. When I close my eyes, I mistake the sweeping wind for crashing waves as they hit the shore and retreat.
The hall has the intimacy of a Victorian study, and the oriental carpet and lounge chairs feel like a cozy living room. But with the countless rows of bookshelves at either end of the room, there is no mistaking it for anything but a library. It’s a page out of Hogwarts’ Great Hall, spare the floating candles. But the brass bird statues perched on the arches and large portraits hanging on the caramel-colored walls could be thrift finds from a grandparent’s attic.
The room demands silence. It's like the pressure you feel when noise canceling headphones squish your head, or when you dive deep into the sea. An elderly man in a purple pullover pushes a red trolley, empty of books, between the aisles of desks placed across from each other in a 2x2 grid. Slightly hunched, he walks slowly. Wobbling from one side to another, the man is acutely aware that the trolley's wheels squeak to his unsteady pace and that his wavering footsteps are the only sounds, aside from the wind outside.
A brass chandelier that hangs at the center of the high ceiling splits the hall into two. It’s decision time for every newcomer who walks through the grand double-entry wood doors wedged wide open. What seat will it be today? To the right side of the library or the left? The pattern is clear: someone walks in, hesitates for a split second as their neck cranes from one side of the room to the other and their eyes scan the space for an empty seat, or perhaps a familiar face. Then, a decision is made, and a spot is picked.
Is it reflective of the inherent introverted nature of the library, or the students themselves who choose to study there? Unlike the outgoing, social atmosphere of Main Library that sometimes makes it impossible to get work done, there is no expectation to carry conversation. Here, it’s a lone study endeavor.
Whispered conversations, mouthed words and hushed laughter. It’s a sea of masked and unmasked students facing opened laptops and stickered Hydro Flasks, each existing in their own worlds of empty Google Docs, endless Chrome tabs, and loading Canvas pages. The corner seats on each long, narrow table are the first to go, as are the tables at the very ends of the room. God forbid you sit too close or directly face another student. It's the squished-together public transportation etiquette: breathe quietly, pretend you didn’t just touch elbows (even if it truly has gotten too crowded) and avoid any direct eye contact, at all costs.