A recently completed Macroeconomics exam forced me to go underground last weekend, squirreling away in a library cubbyhole to simultaneously pound out problem sets and practice exams. I ended up studying in both of campus' two main libraries, the Rockefeller Library and the Sciences Library. So with an even-keeled mind, I'm going to lay down the gauntlet: The SciLi is the social student's library of choice and the Rock the studying student's preferred destination.
But first let's take a couple steps back and add some caveats before delving into this divisive issue. Realistically, the competition between the Rock and the SciLi is probably the most overrated thing to come to Brown since Sean Combs. The main source of its manufactured air is the hyperbolic rhetoric tour guides lend to the rivalry. That doesn't mean that I'm pointing the finger at you Mr. or Ms. Tour Guide. A campus tour is long and demanding and pontificating about a library rivalry not only convinces parents that Brown fosters fastidious study habits but also saves the trouble of explaining all the hexes and plagues that haunt you for walking through the Van Wickle Gates at the wrong time.
Snarky sniping aside, all myths start from some kernel of truth, and the tale of two libraries is no different. In fact, a rational analysis about the cultures and features of the two libraries is important when gauging the type of studying that can be accomplished in each.
The SciLi's hot spots are in its basement. Long communal tables with multiple computers ring a central staircase. There are areas separated by target decibel levels. Prime real estate spots are group study rooms that you often have to reserve in advance. The upper floors are primarily deserted with the occasional student looking to study in a quiet place.
In a sense, all of the SciLi's main attributes contribute to a more social setting. The study rooms are group study rooms meant to inspire cooperation. It's hard to not know someone in the SciLi, and odds are you'll likely be drawn into a conversation at least once per visit.
All that interaction doesn't even take into account the lobby area, which mimics a dining hall and may actually embody a real world Facebook. There are so many people there, and quickly scanning the room is like checking your top news feed. Oh look, Jim and Amy are arguing over coffee — looks like someone's relationship is complicated: That's so interesting. Maybe I should check it out — 30 minutes wasted.
Just compare the SciLi waiting area to that of the Rock. The Rock's entrance is barely used — non-peak hours see fewer people there than in a Russian Lit class. The barren foyer is symbolic of the Rock in general. It's just inherently more diffuse. People are spread out throughout the five floors at desks in the stacks, and a significantly smaller portion of students work in the first floor's more public setting. Finally, for those who'd rather be working in a vacuum, there's always the absolute quiet room — though I hear that one's a bit overrated. Regardless, working in the stacks is especially quiet. The average stack student is quite irascible, becoming irritated at the sound of footsteps.
The basic overview of the two libraries shows that the SciLi is better for group work and the Rock for individual efforts. The problem with this analysis is that being better for group work is not exactly unique to a library. Anyone can find the same atmosphere the SciLi provides at Smith-Buonanno Hall or J. Walter Wilson. The SciLi's glut of computers can be recreated if everyone brings their laptop. In essence, the SciLi is a glorified Smitty-B with books or a poor man's Blue Room.
That's not to say the SciLi doesn't have any value. The fact that it's open 24 hours is a plus for those who study late, though I'd wonder if diminishing marginal returns might kick into play for those studying until 6 a.m. But not all studying is about relying on other people. A quiet, calm environment is ideal for achieving studying's end. To put it a different way, when studying for an exam, it's nice to have some quiet time with your thoughts, sans distractions. The Rock, with its post-Zombie apocalypse levels of quiet, provides that in spades.
Chip Lebovitz '14 directs desperate Republicans to Sam Plotner if they still need another presidential candidate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.