A faint waft of spices. Rich, textured, delicious under the right circumstances. The smell grows stronger. Butter chicken? No, not milky enough, this smell seems heavier, more spicy. Alas, my tasting vocabulary is dwindling at an alarming rate. There is another way that I might describe the smell and it is perhaps more appropriate; deeply distracting. Why is it distracting? Ok, fair enough, no more smoke and mirrors.
I am sitting in the UNSW main campus library, on the eighth floor and somehow, the dense text that is in front of me, the one that it is my task as a student to survey, is of a sudden receding. It is receding from my grasp, from my efforts, in the silence of study to comprehend it. It is the scent of a delicious Indian meal, though soured somewhat by the peculiarity of its presence in a library, that has disrupted my study. Points for originality, I suppose. Though I am unsure if originality inspires admiration or compounds annoyance in such a situation.
What makes this distraction worse, is the fact that it has followed a series of distractions. On level five there was a tutoring lesson in the silent study space, on level six a social engagement, level seven no seats and now on level eight a live action ASMR performance meets Kitchen Nightmares UK.
So what are my choices? Shall I confront, politely of course, the culprit? That doesn’t seem an awfully appealing task and somehow, the fact that this person has already committed such a logical oversight indicates that perhaps it is a pointless task anyway. Would trying to stop this person from eating and now from talking as well simply compound the distraction for everyone else? Probably. These situations make people nervous, that is why we all sit here in silence, thinking equivalent thoughts regarding our annoyance. No one will say anything. In a way it is more unpleasant to speak up. There is something eventful about doing so and that eventfulness disrupts any sense of quiet.
I pick up my things and retreat. I will have to study at home, competing with domestic distractions. Now I think to myself that perhaps I can still make use of this library of ours. I will do some writing at the computers downstairs.
When I arrive I sit down at a free computer and log-in. Ah yes, another slow log-in. I have become accustomed to this over the last few weeks. IT difficulties, fair enough I suppose. While waiting the five to ten minutes it takes to log into the computer I notice something peculiar. It is the unmistakable wail of a baby. How could this be? This is not a community library. I spy it out in the room, guided by sheer volume. It is a parent with a baby, in the library. This is an interesting development. The computer log-in is complete but the programs take another few minutes to appear and I find that I have been docked fifteen of my 60 minutes of time on the computer. I leave.
What do we expect of the UNSW main campus library? It isn’t a particularly inspiring topic I will admit. There is no imminent social issue at play in the scenario I have just outlined, no urgency to establish a new justice. My complaints are perhaps as annoying as the disruptors themselves, because they are old complaints, conservative, in a way. But is it not an essential organ of a university, a library? Should it not be taken seriously, at least to the extent that we should want it to be compatible with study, even simply with reading alone? There are many purposes a library might take up and that seems a good thing but if we don’t care about it maintaining its primary purpose then none of the exciting developments will have any meaning or any promise of continuity.
I spoke to someone high up in library services and administration at UNSW, outlining the above and asking if they might do something about it. I was amazed at the response that I received. The political method, it seems, of answering around a question, detailing irrelevant projects and aims, is a pervasive and effective deterrent. My dad had something interesting to say about it when I showed him my correspondence: it is amazing that someone can say so much and yet say so little at the same time. This was the truth of my interaction with the librarian, whom I shall keep nameless.
Thinking back to my level 8 fiasco and then of the other issues around the library I feel, somewhat against my better judgement, that what is lacking in our library is leadership. Students can only go so far in establishing normative standards, unfortunately it seems that what is needed are clearly defined rules. In the clear absence of agreed-upon standards it is perhaps more effective to be explicit in counting the standards of the library, rather than relying on everyone to catch on to the behaviour of others. By no means am I, an ever so slightly anarchist leaning student, alluding to some sort of library standards police force. If we are to have an administration then we should be asking them to maintain the standards that are lacking. This isn’t asking for authority, it pointing to the legitimate authority of action implied by their employment.
I do not know how our librarians should change the standards of behaviour in our library but I do know that at the moment it seems the library leadership is more concerned with appearing to engage in development than creating a suitable library environment. Maybe it is in keeping with our times that the administration should be concerned with vacuous decorating and the meaningless designation of ‘zones’ within our library. It seems to me that the concept of a library is relatively simple and doesn’t need the confusion of sleeping pods and bean-bags. Presumably the student lounges are the more appropriate place for such things. I am not advocating a draconian library free of smiles or interaction but I am saying that there needs to be a line drawn in the sand. The more the library confuses its purpose and alienates study, the more the university itself moves away from academia.