The Lure of Lamont

Why the Reading Room is a Health Hazard

Chalk it up as yet another one of those choice campus locales where I do not want to find myself on a dark and stormy Sunday night; Lamont Reading Room is not for the faint-hearted. Lest this be immediately dismissed as the hyperbole of an avowed library-phobe, and in the interests of a fair trial, here is a comprehensive list of Lamont’s redeeming features: those heavenly chairs which sink faster than the latest Bennifer venture and, like Gigli, are guaranteed to induce snores in under 15 minutes; the comfortingly kitsch circa 1973 aesthetic of the glass-cabinet book displays, usually an attempt to illustrate some point of the “Poetry is Fun!” ilk (a reminder anyone stuck on page six of a troublesome paper on the footnotes of “The Wasteland” sorely needs); and an iTunes selection undoubtedly second to none (and having noticed the prevalence of classic tunes like “Quit Playing Games With My Heart” on said shared music lists it is clear that even the most dedicated velvet-blazer and black-beret garbed indie kids lounging in Lamont must be hoarding the entire Backstreet Boys back-catalogue on their computer).

These somewhat dubious delights aside, the place is still completely terrifying. Having finally pried the headphones away and worked through an acute case of coveting thy neighbor’s boyband-filled playlist (“Look, they even have the little-known trance remix of MmmBop!”), the only sound to be heard in the Reading Room is that of sheer productivity itself, or more specifically, the irritatingly incessant tapping of computer keyboards. Here is conclusive aural proof of the awesome industriousness of the surrounding scholars—a sound which invariably seems to increase in volume directly proportionate to one’s own acute sense of writer’s block.

The Reading Room seems to encourage such feelings of personal inadequacy in its very physical design, with everyone able to look at everyone else and see nothing but bobbing heads, broken only by the occasional head lifted up in the midst of what can only be perceived as deep existential contemplation. Such is the palpable ferment of this small space that during reading period, it becomes a kind of book-lined red carpet, the place to See and Be Seen for the tri-colored highlighter toting and Nalgene swigging A-List (forget Chanel, the oversized waterbottle really is exam season’s must-have accessory). This glittering and perhaps rather mythical group, presumed to signpost their academic career with Detur at one end and Hoopes at the other and a whole lotta fluorescent sourcebook underlining in-between, are clearly delineated from The Rest Of Us, who find the silence of the library a little unnerving, typically set the alarm for 6 a.m. the day of an exam (“two and a half hours should be enough to learn the entire course” is most definitely a phrase I have never uttered) and worst of all, generally neglect the import of regular hydration during periods of heightened stress.

There is no more accurate barometer to determine diligence and self-discipline than in reaction to the aforementioned, dreaded Reading Room. As a general indicator of impeccable conscientiousness in library studying, you might ask yourself if you’ve ever thought of desks in Lamont as akin to real estate—the home to such prized properties as the center-of-the-room wireless-equipped desks, otherwise known as Harvard’s own Hamptons for those in the know. All the scrabble for a window seat in that place could have an outside observer convinced the framed view was a shimmering waterview rather than a not-so salubrious streetscape crowned with the glowing neon signage of the Kong.

If, by contrast, you’ve found yourself hard-pressed to eke out a few hundred words for a Core class paper while marveling at the way everyone else in the library seems to work with such admirable drive and direction, then perhaps that’s an indicator of alignment with the sprawled-on-a-bed, lolling-on-a-futon, singing-along-with-KISS108 studying style. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would argue (in an admittedly self-justifying vein) that the sight of other people working hard can indeed prove the ultimate de-motivator, robbing us of the ability to feel sorry for ourselves and wallow in the self-induced misery of serial procrastination. The solitary all-nighter-as-penance (with nothing but occasional bonding sessions with the vending machine as company) is the archetypal scholarly self-flagellation.


So for everyone who finds excess efficiency not exemplary but egregious, it’s time to reclaim “Sunday evenings in” as a source of pride, not shame. No matter how much you’re craving that Hanson hit, or those comfy chairs, or even that useful reminder of the joys of rhyming verse, Lamont isn’t the answer to your end-of-weekend woes. Study should be study regardless of whether anyone is watching. Resist ingratiation into the cult of the Reading Room and don’t make productivity a performance.

Amelia E. Lester ’05 is an English concentrator in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays.