Oxford Etiquette: Libraries

This article first appeared in The Oxford Student on 19 February 2015.

Libraries are an inescapable fact of student life, especially at Oxford. Indeed, the amount of time the average Oxford student is required to spend in one of the city’s many libraries is roughly equivalent to the amount of time the average dentist must spend with his hand inside people’s mouths. This is an apt comparison, because while large amounts of time spent in and around enormous stacks of books is very much a part of the student job description, one can’t help feeling the entire situation has the potential to get a bit… bitey. It’s all very well saying that it’s ‘part of the job’, but such a sentiment is monumentally unhelpful when dealing with the often stressful and exhausting nature of most libraries. The worst ones form a kind of hellish labyrinth of erudition and confusion- terrible places, full of lost bod cards and lost souls, not to mention the broken printers, decaying tomes, and aggressively unintuitive shelf layouts. Library work can often feel like an uphill struggle, a hill which aggressively shushes you whenever you start crying, which is entirely understandable when you are facing down yet another three-day deadline and the prospect of having to read and understand Beowulf, Das Kapital and Thomas the Tank Engine in a single night, in preparation for a fiendishly complex essay on ‘Pre- and post-industrial representations of human and nonhuman interaction’.

All of which is to say that libraries are places where emotions often run high, and it is therefore important to remain conscious and respectful of other users. For example, while it may very well aid your concentration to blast tinny R&B from your laptop speakers, such behaviour will generally get you thrown out, as will playing dodgems with the book trolleys or attempting to scale the shelves in an attempt to mitigate the soul-crushing boredom involved in actually reading Dubliners.

The golden rule, of course, is that one must maintain absolute silence at all times. It’s like being in church. Only instead of just one Good Book, there are several thousand. And you have to read all of them.

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