Seda ’12: Rock vs. SciLi: It’s a circumstantial choice

Opinions Columnist
Monday, October 17, 2011

In a recent column (“Rock beats SciLi”, Oct. 7), Chip Lebovitz ’14 sings the praises of the Rockefeller Library while he vilifies what he considers to be the intellectually absent social scene at the Sciences Library. Lebovitz has a very valid point in observing how the topic of the Rock versus the SciLi is a divisive issue among members of the community. Just try asking any Brown student how they feel about either of these two libraries and you will find yourself in the midst of a heated, if not stimulating, argument. Yet I think we should not rush to box these libraries and their visitors in such narrow categories.

I agree that we tend to overestimate the merits and potential of both the SciLi and the Rock.

It might be because we are, as Brown students, so personally invested in this debate that we feel the need to pledge allegiance to either the Rock or the SciLi once we arrive on College Hill.

What’s more, there seems to be a tacit imperative to not only play for one of these two teams, but also of defending our library of choice against slanderous tongues who seek to tarnish its name and reputation.

I have met hardcore Rockers who snicker at the thought of stepping foot in the “concrete building made out of concrete” that towers over the intersection of Thayer and Waterman streets. I have also met their dissenters — the assiduous SciLi-goers who impassively dismiss the Rock as being either too far (lie), too quiet (not if you go there on a Sunday night) or plain uninspiring (that is contestable). And then there are the species of migratory birds who, come the heart-stopping 2 a.m. alarm that puts an end to their Rock confinement, must transfer over to the SciLi to initiate the second round of their all-nighter.

Besides places of study and houses full of books, the Rock and the SciLi are also Brown trademarks that we stereotype and class. The Rock is not just the library on Prospect Street where you go to check out materials for your humanities or social sciences courses, just as the SciLi is not simply the multi-story building that is open 24 hours, five days a week. The Rock and the SciLi are pre-packaged concepts of study that we adhere to, criticize and help to maintain.

For instance, let’s think about the schemata we have built around them. First is the Rock, with its low-key atmosphere, mood lighting in the lobby area and somber, somewhat monochromatic decor that compels you to quit people-watching and bury your nose inside your book.

Stereotypically speaking, it is for the hardworking student who would surely let out a scoff should you dare to break his or her concentration with even the most inaudible of whispers. On the other hand, we have the SciLi, the life and soul of the party that I once heard someone compare to a massive speed-dating event, a fast-paced place in constant flux, a Babel. In this case, it is for the gregarious student who wants to catch up on the latest gossip and perhaps get a bit of work done in the company of other people.

I will not deny that some of these assumptions are anchored in careful observations of what actually takes place in these two libraries. Yet I am bothered by Lebovitz’s assertion that the Rock exists for a certain type of student — the studious one — whereas the SciLi is built to welcome its counterpart — the social one. While it is true that these two libraries might impose a certain code of behavior, they do not exclusively cater to one type of student or another.

It is unfair, not to mention inaccurate, to say that “studying” students — as Lebovitz puts it —  study at the Rock and that social students choose to study at the SciLi. In fact, if we take the word “social” to mean fostering the interaction and exchange between people, then the Rock is as social as the SciLi. The only difference is that another kind of social interaction takes place there — one that is marked by conversations ranking lower on the decibel scale than those that dominate the SciLi lobby and the Friedman Study Center.

All in all, students frequent the Rock and the SciLi for different purposes so that different types of study, not students, set the tone for each. A group project might pull students to the study rooms at the Friedman Study Center — not that the Rock does not have study rooms either — while 200 pages worth of reading might make the Absolute Quiet Room at the Rock an attractive choice for an afternoon of uninterrupted thinking. What is necessary is to steer clear of library politics and the tendency to arbitrarily categorize the students who choose to study at either location. Rock dwellers are not loners. SciLi residents are not ravers. If we insist on holding on to the debate, then let’s allow “Rock versus SciLi” to be about the places, not about the people.

Lucia Seda ’12 invites you to study at the Orwig Music Library if you really want to avoid crowds and relish in “post-Zombie apocalypse levels of quiet.” She can be reached at

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