Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Meet My Friend, Alex

My life has hit an all-new low: I tried to bribe the library assistant to get a study carrel.

Well, OK, that's not quite true.

The law library was renovated over the summer. Where earlier there was an open atrium between the 4th and 5th floors, they've constructed a floor/ ceiling (depending on your point of view). The walls have been painted, the shelves and furniture have been replaced, and new lighting has been installed. We're talking big changes. Expensive changes. The library was closed at the end of last April, right in the middle of the exam period, to start work. When I came up to campus to help a friend working at New Student Orientation the day before classes started, the library was still closed.

So I was quite eager to see the fruits of this labor(and, I suspect, one reason why my tuition went up almost 9%). I jumped in the elevator to the 4th floor and stepped out onto the set of Star Trek.

Or at least that's what it looked like. Everything is sleek and shiny, dark gleaming wood against aquamarine walls, silvery grey carpets with M.C. Escher-looking designs woven in, platinum fixtures. The designers were very into curves and very against straight lines: the circulation desk is now circular. In the middle is a gigantic platinum-colored...thing that we've already nick-named "The Olympic Torch" . An enormous circular light is recessed into the ceiling directly above it. You half expect to see the library assistants launching the space shuttle from the computer terminals.

But, oh Lord, the new furniture.

Whoever did the interior design in this library has obviously never spent much time in one. The place looks very nice, but it is completely impractical. For example, the new lighting. One of the real problems in the old library was a lack of good lighting. It was bad enough that little individual desk lamps were scattered throughout the seating area. The new lighting is all recessed, presumably high-efficiency lighting. It is *not* an improvement. And they've removed the little desk lamps, so you can't even improve things.

Which brings me to study carrels. There used to be row upon row of individual study carrels throughout the 3rd and 5th floor and in the back half of the 4th floor. The front half of the 4th floor, which was separated from the back half by a wall, had several long tables with room for maybe 10 people to sit down. If you wanted to work semi-quietly with friends (or goof off semi-quietly with friends), you sat at one of these tables. If you sat at a study carrel, the unspoken rule was that conversation was to be avoided and kept to a whisper when necessary. Both tables and carrels were equipped with very cool chairs. They were padded and built in such a fashion that you could rock back a few inches without fear of tipping over. They were, it must be admitted, kind of ugly. But they were very comfortable and user-friendly, which is important when you plan to plant your butt in one for several hours.

Well, now there are no more long tables. And a whole bunch of the study carrels are gone, too. All replaced with small tables of the size that we called "four-tops" when I waitressed. This is, if you ask me, practically an invitation to socialize instead of studying. These new tables are also ever so slightly higher than normal.

Not that there are no study carrels at all. In the 5th floor I found a few lonely rows of brand new study carrels right next to the bathrooms. These new carrels look very elegant, made from the same gleaming dark wood. The old study carrels were not "wired"-- instead a bunch of power strips with very long cords were rigged to the carrels and students were reliant on the school Wireless for internet access. The new carrels have power outlets (no more unsightly cords) and Ethernet outlets. (Wireless is also still available) But they are bigger than the old carrels. In fact, I would describe the new carrels as "the SUV of carrels". Much bigger than really necessary for everyday usage by one solitary person. They are also higher than the average carrel. Because they take up so much more space, fewer of them fit.

Both tables and carrels are equipped with horrible chairs: hard, bare wood with high, straight backs. The legs catch on the M.C. Escher carpets. You sit in these stupid things for fifteen minutes, your butt falls asleep and your back starts to cramp. These chairs belong in the formal dining room of a pretentious mansion, not in a law library. Adding insult to injury, they sit ever-so-slightly low. Combine this with the ever-so-slightly high tables/ carrels and you've got a recipe for a carpal tunnel epidemic among the law students.

But here's the best part. Despite the fact that they've been working on it since the end of April and it's now the end of August, the work is not finished yet. Whole shelves of books are not yet reshelved. Little piles of tiles and scraps of carpet are around every corner. The Starbucks Cafe in the 4th Floor still has soap on the windows and the knobs haven't been installed on the doors. The Microfiche Room is roped off and the machines are shove in a corner, while hunks of wire are hanging down from the ceiling because the lights haven't been installed yet.

In all honestly, I was quite disappointed with the results.

That was on Wednesday. On Friday evening, Finbar and I were at a meeting of the Asian Law Students Association (yes, I know). We were there at the insistence of P., because D and J would also be there and we hadn't seen each other together since we all left for our various study abroad programs in May. We had a lot to tell each other and aped until the cigarette smoke got to be too much in the bar. J and D had to leave anyway, so P, Finbar, and I were left to find something to do. I had picked up my last five books at the bookstore on the way to the ALSA meeting, so I asked to swing by the law school to drop the books in my locker. Then Finbar wanted to see the Star Trek Library, so we hiked up to the 4th floor, then to the 5th, and while we stood in the stacks making fun of the interior design and complaining about the furniture, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen any sofas in the new library.

Last year I occasionally made use of a sofa on the 3rd floor to lay down and relax for a while when studying in the library just got to be too much for me. After a half hour or so, I usually felt better and could get back to studying. If I still couldn't get back to the books after an hour on the couch, then it was clearly time to call it quits. I would be very disappointed if the sofas all disappeared.

So we went straight to the 3rd floor and instead of the sofa, we found El Dorado: the old study carrels and (squee!) the old chairs! Apparently, the budget for new furniture didn't include the 3rd floor (no, really! You can't make this stuff up.) And even better, a few of these beautiful carrels are next to the only five windows in the whole library! P and I looked at each other and simultaneously ran for the stairwell to the 4th floor and the reservation desk, where we hoped to reserve a padded window seat to study bliss.

There are some little things that are of paramount importance to the law student. The lockers, for example. On the first day of law school, I felt a little strange, since I hadn't had a locker since the halcyon days of high school. Now I don't know what I would do without it. The mere fact that I can keep my books at school and not schlep them back and forth on the bus is probably the only reason that I haven't been hospitalized for a back injury. I can keep a box on the top shelf of my locker that's stocked with emergency supplies -- band aids, ibuprofen, a few dollars, a package of Pop Tarts. When you spend 50 - 60 hours a week here, you have to be prepared for anything. Nothing disrupts the study groove like having to decide whether to listen to the growling tummy or go home for something to eat.

The right study carrel is much more important than having a locker.

Just as in real estate, location is everything. The carrels next to the Atrium were very noisy, what with the echoing chatter from the fourth floor. The ones on the fourth floor are right next to the IT Support Staff Office. That means lots of foot talking and chatter. The ones by the door are disturbed by the foot traffic and there's a good chance that you'll be constantly distracted by your friends stopping by when they see you sitting there on their way to a study carrel. The ones by the bathroom see a lot of foot traffic and the vague smell of, well, toilets. Some carrels are in a good location, but the neighboring carrels are occupied by the squealy, giggly, gossipy girls who you wouldn't think could get into law school.

So, this perfect row of study carrels is important.

P and I came skidding up to the circulation desk.

"I'd like to reserve a study carrel."

"You can't."

What? Since when? I mean, that's practically unamerican! Maybe it's only because the library isn't finished yet and they still have to put numbers on the new carrels (true story, that). "You can't reserve them at all, or you can't reserve them yet?"

"ummmmm... Not yet."

"Oh, OK. Do you know when we will be able to reserve the carrels?"

"Well, I think after Labor Day. And only upperclassmen will be allowed."

"Who's considered an upperclassman? 2Ls or just 3Ls?"

*blank stare*

"Will it be on the Tuesday after Labor Day or just at some unnamed time in the future after Labor Day?"

"After Labor Day."

I could see that this conversation is going nowhere, so we got back in the elevators and left. As the doors to the elevator slid shut, P and I looked at each other and started cracking up. I mean, what kind of losers are we that we're in the law school library (a) on a Friday night, (b) at 8 p.m., (c) getting angry because we can't reserve a study carrel? I took a ten dollar bill from my pocket and leered in my best wannabe smooth voice, "My good friend, Alexander Hamilton, would like to reserve a study carrel." And of course, we all laughed, but when the doors opened again, P and I both hesitated for a second, almost as if we were debating going back upstairs to introduce our "good friend" to the library assistant...


Monday, August 30, 2004

Future Attractions

Errant Apostrophes: ranting about law school, life, and general stupidity. Brought to you from the depths of law school hell.