Insider’s View: Library Carrels

Library Carrels

(Photo by James Gehrt)

The Mount Holyoke libraries house 180 carrels—scattered throughout the Williston and Miles-Smith stacks—where seniors study, snack, sleep, and store mountains of books gathered for researching and writing a thesis.

The selection process—once chaotic, according to circulation manager Karen Mehl—has been refined over the years. On a Sunday morning last September seniors—many of whom had camped outside overnight—were given a number as they entered the library. Each then made her way to Whiting Alcove, where she crossed off her carrel of choice on a large map.

In the past eligible juniors grabbed the few carrels that remained after seniors claimed the ones they wanted, but in recent years all carrels have been spoken for within the first three hours of assignment day.

The most popular carrels are on the sixth floor of Miles-Smith, because the windows open and offer the best light, the bathroom and water fountain are nearby (but not too close), and, most important, it’s a quiet floor.

The carrels on level one Williston are the last to be claimed, because the floor is underground, and, students have told Mehl, the space feels a a bit “creepy.”

Students personalize their carrels with more than just books. Over the years, librarians have seen everything from holiday lights hanging from the pipes to shower curtains mounted as doors to one memorable space set up to resemble a tiny office, complete with carpet, throw pillows, and a couch. Now, fire regulations prohibit such elaborate decor, but students still adorn their carrels with postcards, posters, photos, and pennants.

Once considered property of the seniors, carrels now officially are deemed library space and may be used by any student when unoccupied.

By Taylor Scott

This article appeared in the winter 2014 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly

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One response to “Insider’s View: Library Carrels”

  1. Ruth Goldberg Pinkus '65 says:

    In my day you had to be doing an honors thesis to get a carrel, I think. I chose #1A, the carrel in the farthest corner of the sub-basement (Level One)–the level the current students think is “too creepy”. I loved it. It was absolutely silent, except for the humming of the fluorescent lights, which was what I wanted. Almost no one ever came down there, except occasionally one of my friends, to see if I was still alive.. There were big wooden tables where I could lay out the many pages of the questionnaire I had to collate. In those days the library closed during dinner, I suppose because we were supposed to get suitably nourished. Personnel would do sweeps through the library and kick everyone out. However, they rarely made it down to my level, and I was able to sit there peacefully working right through the dinner hour.

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