The newly restored East Reading Room of The Ohio State University’s William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library in Columbus, Ohio appears to be a big hit. I know I do like it. In fact the whole library has seen somewhat of a rebirth of the old and new alike. In this day in age I’d assume that the needs and wants of the collegiate student has changed quite a bit. The definition of a library has been completely rewritten and I suppose it requires asking whether a tangible representative of a library is even a necessity.
The most simple answer to this is not really. When I was in college in the late 1990s I visited this very library to do research from actual books from time-to-time. That’s a practice that’s quickly going the way of the dodo. The remainder of the time I spent in the OSU main library was for the purpose of escaping the distractions of raucous rooming houses or to brush up on assignments between classes. Unless things have changed more than I know, these situations are timeless.
Usually I never made it beyond the front steps of Orton Hall’s Geology Library and its academic and architectural superiority. Of course this East Reading Room didn’t exist when I was wondering The Oval. Back then, split into two levels, its moldings were removed and windows bricked-in and few probably were around to know anything resembling this photo ever existed. It really was just as bad as it sounds. If it looked this good when I was in school I probably would have accomplished more from my matriculation. I’d be interested to see if such environments contribute more production in the way of learning – like listening to Classical music and the like.
So, are twenty first century students also attracted to more inspiring settings or are book repositories simply obsolete institutions? While it’s unlikely that those researching thesis’ are scouring the stacks like in days of yore students do still gravitate to this monument to learning. Those who wish not to lug around cumbersome laptops pop in to use the library’s many computer terminals (the computer lab seems to be an extinct concept), lounge on comfortable seating in between classes, take naps, watch movies or patron the cafe, which is no slouch itself serving just about anything a starved brain might require. While the student union continues to serve as a kitchen away from home the library seems to play the role of on-campus living room. It’s nice to see that some of the classic symbols of higher education not only survive the changes of time but adapt quite well too.