Considering Columbia’s size and number of academic departments, there’s no shortage of libraries on campus. Sure, Butler may feel like an omnipotent presence, but if you’re willing to do a little exploring you might just stumble upon your new favorite study spot. To save yourself a bit of effort, though, you can look through these reviews of a couple of libraries on campus and hopefully get inspired to branch out beyond Butler.
I’ve found that the Butler vibe is a matter of perspective. Some feel that the environment is too stressful, which I understand given that virtually no matter where you go, you’ll be surrounded by super intense people zoned in to their work.
There’s also the distraction factor—just the other day, the guy sitting next to me came back to his seat with a carton of pancakes and donuts from the dining hall and sat watching Netflix for over an hour. This isn’t the most conducive environment for getting stuff done, especially when you’re actively trying not to think about stuffing your face with junk food as a stress reliever. So there’s two ends of the studying spectrum here: too focused or not focused enough.
However, that’s not to say that Butler is all bad. There’s plenty of people who fall somewhere in the middle of that scale. I know it’s weird, I feel a comforting sense of camaraderie when I’m studying around strangers, as if we’re all studying together and there for one another, and there’s nowhere else on campus where you’ll get that feeling. (Yeah, I told you it was weird.)
Basically, there’s no one way to characterize Butler, nor is there any one type of person who goes there. It’s not really about the library, it’s more about the type of person you are.
C.V. Starr East Asian
This is hands-down my favorite library on campus because it has a really pretty ceiling (apparently ceilings are important to me). But of course there’s more to the East Asian library than that. Located in Kent, East Asian feels cozy and chill, a vibe achieved by the lofty interior architecture, soft lighting, and long wooden tables. There’s even a big stained glass window!
About five tables occupy their own private nook on balconies overlooking the main study space, so if you like the idea of being surrounded on all sides by books and having a little privacy while studying, this is the place for you.
The library gets fairly full at peak times, but since it’s so small it never feels crowded, and often there aren’t many people there at all, especially on weekday nights. You may feel like you’ve stumbled upon a secret space while everyone else is going through the same old routine and spending hours in Butler.
Avery has always kind of intimidated me—maybe that’s because not many undergraduates study there, or because there are signs on, like, half the tables reserving spots for graduate students and faculty of the architecture school. Avery is also one of the largest and most prestigious architecture libraries in the world (no wonder I’ve been intimidated).
Although Avery is a bit out of the way for most of us, it attracts the artsy types you’ll often find at Brownie’s Café. Seriously though, the café is definitely a draw—it’s one of few places on campus besides the dining halls where you can get a decent meal, since Brownie’s has a good variety of sandwiches and snacks.
The lower levels of the library (below campus level) also have more study space than you may have realized, including little cubbies, if you want privacy, and a larger room, albeit with slightly uncomfortable chairs.
Not many people are aware of it, but Geology is a tiny library on the sixth floor of Schermerhorn that’s well-lit, aesthetically pleasing, and clean—all very important qualities. There are usually at least a couple of people there at any one point, so you won’t feel too lonely, but Geology is definitely ideal for those of us who need a little more privacy and quiet while studying. It isn’t open as late as most of the other libraries on campus (’til 5 p.m. from Friday to Sunday, and ’til 7 p.m. from Monday to Thursday), so it may be a nice option if you like working while there’s still daylight. Crowded bookshelves add a charming touch to the space.
Science and Engineering Library (NoCo)
If you’re most productive late at night and aren’t feeling Butler, the Science and Engineering Library is a good alternative—it’s open until 3 a.m. every night except for Fridays (till 1 a.m.) and Saturdays (till 11 p.m.). There’s a good amount of space and plenty of cubbies and open tables to choose from. I’m also a fan of the natural lighting, courtesy of the wall-to-ceiling windows. The style is somewhat futuristic, at least much more so than East Asian or Avery.
NoCo gets additional points for having Joe Coffee in the same building, where you can take a study break in what feels like a huge glass box (in a good way). You can do work at Joe for a change of scenery (assuming you can find space among all the grad students)—it never gets too loud, but you’ll always be able to overhear the interesting conversations around you.
Math currently commands a great view of the construction pit where the Barnard library used to be, but it has positive attributes as well, I promise. This small library has the usual mix of private cubbies and larger tables, along with desktop computers if you’re in need of those. There’s more of an old-school feel in the space than in most of the other libraries on campus, as if it hasn’t been renovated in a while, but that’s part of its charm.
When I first walked into LeFrak I was immediately drawn to the unfinished, industrial aesthetic. Located on the first floor of Barnard Hall, LeFrak encompasses archival collections, student spaces, seminar rooms, a digital lab, and a good amount of study space. The white walls are almost luminescent, an effect sharpened by the black ceiling and bright artificial lighting, and display colorful posters quoting notable historical figures (such as Zora Neale Hurston).
Lehman is most notable for its many group study spaces—if you need a place to go to work on a group project, or if you just like the background noise of multiple conversations going on at once, then you might want to try out this fairly large library on the third floor of the International Affairs Building. A winding staircase, leading from the center of the library down to another level with long study tables, adds a nice aesthetic touch. There are a bunch of sofas surrounding the staircase in the main space, so if you ever need a relaxing place to do some light reading, go check it out.
If you’re anything like me, you’re super picky about where you choose to study. Everything has to be just right––the lighting, the size of the space, the kinds of people who go there, the comfort of the chairs, access to food and coffee. But there are many factors that contribute to your productivity in any one space. The good news is there are a lot of libraries here with very different vibes. There’s bound to be one just right for you.
Tina Watson is a Spectrum trainee and Columbia College junior. Obviously she’s a big fan of libraries. Recommend one to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.