Columns, Opinion

SHEA: Paradise Lost

My hidden cove used to be the sixth floor of Mugar Memorial Library, in the corner carrel that overlooked the Boston skyline. It was a special day when no one else was at the coveted window desk, which was so high in demand that whenever sitting there, you could hear multiple people’s footsteps as they walked up to peep over and see if anyone was sitting there and then, disappointed, search for another seat. I used to sit in the row behind the person near the window so I could steal the spot once the person left, which, now that I think about it, is kind of creepy.

But last week I went back to my favorite spot with a book on Benjamin Franklin’s letters only to find that it had been completely rearranged.

Boston University purchased a new wardrobe for the library, and it is both inconvenient and unfitting. While I was en route to my secret hideout, to my dismay, the dividers on the carrels were significantly lowered so as to have no privacy, and the corner view from the African Studies library no longer has a desk facing directly out the window. Now I can see and hear every other person around me, and I’m pretty sure these people similarly do not want to hear me crackling M&Ms for an hour.

The library is somewhat of a middle ground between public and private life. It is a public place (in this case intended for BU people only), but not one in which people are supposed to socialize, unless you’re sitting on the third floor (such a scene). I happen to like my privacy.

Maybe Mugar is attempting to alter its feng shui, but the result is nearly crackhouse-esque — not exactly worthy of an Architectural Digest spread. Nothing quite matches: the shelves and desks are made out of what appears to be cheap mahogany (cheap because there are visible scratches everywhere already), as if the contractors are trying to emulate an Ivy League school but did not have enough resources to complete the project. It’s the Big Dig of libraries.

When I first came to study here, I resented the Brutalist architectural style of our library because it made me feel as if I was in a Cold War bunker. However, I’ve grown to appreciate Mugar more and more for its shamelessly un-pretentious ways, unlike other universities who build ionic pillars and paint Frescos on their ceilings just to appear more credible and enlightened. But Mugar focuses the student on the most important aspect of the library, which is obviously the book collection. We don’t need a gilded façade like other campuses to know we attend a world-class institution, even if the exposed concrete is a bit much.

Back to my labyrinthine wander throughout the stacks: I couldn’t easily tuck myself away into any of the crevices, as there were books that hadn’t yet been re-shelved living all over the other carrels. I finally settled into a view-less nook on the fourth floor next to what appeared to be the socio-religious section. It was kind of depressing, but I think the rats enjoyed my company. Someone near me was snoring loudly, so that was a nice touch.

Apparently the new renovation is related to undergraduate complaints that the library was not organized easily enough to find books, but in some sense, that’s kind of the fun part of being in a library. Finding a book, whether it’s for a last-minute class requirement or just to read quietly, should be sort of a scavenger hunt. Whenever I’m looking for a particular book, I always find two or three more that interest me, which is usually a welcome distraction. As a matter of fact, I discovered one of my favorite books, “The Glass Bead Game,” while aimlessly meandering through the aisles.

But it’s the new décor that leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. For some reason the older furniture just blended in more — a library has a right to be bland. The new darker wood is too bold for what should be a neutral ambience. The designers seem to have created a “forest chic” look, but, like, a forest for junkies.

And while some readers might protest that of course the library must update itself at some point, I’d like to point out that Oxford University, according to The Guardian, currently has three designers competing to manufacture the Bodleian’s first new chair in about 400 years. Perhaps BU could have put a little more thought into Mugar’s interior design. It just needs some attention to color-coordination and fluency.

Cartoon phallices drawn on the desks had a tendency to cheer me up during exam periods, so I’ll miss them as well.








Sydney L. Shea is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at

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