Academic Ambience

It was a recent Friday afternoon around 2:30 p.m. I made my way to the second floor of the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center, soaked in the more-than-usual silence and enjoyed the abundant landscape of unoccupied chairs and tables. It was Fall Break, the one-day equivalent of spring break. The word equivalent is used cautiously, indeed. But as most students and faculty agree, any little break immediately following the "We’re halfway to semester’s-end essays and exams" is not something we’re going to complain about. I know, right?

Because of what I experienced next, I texted a friend who also works in the academic world: “I love the college campus!” she responded with a knowing emotion.

So there I sat, taking advantage of this “free” day and immersed in the literature review I’m writing for part of a big research study. At one point, I took one of my 20 or so visual and mental breaks from the articles in front of me:  “Mediated Intimacy in Families,” “Connected Presence in Distributed Family Life” and “Antecedents and Consequences of Online Social Networking Behavior.” Deep into stacks of research explaining the ways technology is changing even the way we interact in our most intimate relationships, maybe I was looking up and around the library in search of assurance that the humans around still do talk to one another? You know, face to face. With words that come out of mouths, not phones or screens.

Or maybe my eyeballs just needed a brief break.

They got it. A few tables in front of me, I enjoyed the mundane sight of two students unloading laptops, books and papers, spreading out for what looked like a good afternoon of studying. They chatted in super-quiet whispers. They dug into their texts. They typed away on their laptops. They paused and chatted again.

“Impressive!” I said to myself. While most students had abandoned campus for a long-weekend visit home or took a day of rest or advantage of their day “off” to put in more hours at paid work, here were two students who found their way to the upper floors of the library and were logging good, quiet study time.

And then what I saw inspired that text message to my friend: they placed a candle – the kind in a jar, like you buy at one of those home parties or Pier One Imports – in the center of their study table. It looked like it probably had a cinnamon scent. In fact, the aroma finally reached my table: Pumpkin pie scent with a large dose of cinnamon and nutmeg, I was sure of it.Guys studying with candleCROP

What?! I had to go ask about it. The young men simply explained they hoped it would add a nice mood to their studying and help them enjoy what they were reading, writing and working on this fall day. They seemed to beam with delight that someone liked the idea, too.

I became more curious: “Do you do this all the time?”

“It’s our first time!” they said, assuring me they had also examined the library website for rules on such small fire-lit devices in the sacred library. They couldn’t find any. I sort of cautioned them – like a mother and lover of books would – but also congratulated them on being intentional about their studying atmosphere.

Their grins were wider than the table. They had, it appeared, succeeded in not only creating delightful academic ambiance, but they enjoyed that someone else affirmed it worked for them, too.

Ah, a cinnamon candle assisting in the search for knowledge: yet one more another reason I adore (insert J here) the college campus, especially ours.

Oh, and one other thing: I have learned that the library is absolutely opposed to and does not allow the burning of candles. If you like the idea of a candle in your library study ritual, better bring the battery-operated kind the next time . . .