Sweet Dreams In Cabot Library

Students pass their nights studying, eating and sleeping

It’s 3 a.m. in the Cabot Science Library, and above the hum of the fluorescent lights and the occasional clanking of the air conditioner, there is a flicker of life.

Tired faces illuminated by the blue glow of their laptops, students here have one thing in common—they aren’t going to sleep tonight.

At least not in their beds.

The dozen students will spend the night in the library, snacking on Doritos and pretzels while huddled in cubicles with chemistry textbooks stacked high on either side, or perched at long conference tables littered with history notes.

At the library, which remains open 24-hours throughout reading period and exams, their world is one of stale smells and purple carpets, high-calorie bagged snacks and pilfered blankets.

Some make it through the night, stumbling out the revolving doors at dawn to pass out in their rooms.

Some don’t even make it that far—as the night progresses, students can be seen staring vacantly at their computers, sleeping on their notes or stretched out on the black leather couches downstairs.

The ‘Six-to-Six People’

While desperation drives many students to forsake sleep for nights of uncomfortable chairs and stagnant air, one group of first-years this exam period just did it for the bragging rights.

Known as the “six-to-six people” across the Yard, the Weld residents heard about the library’s extended hours from their proctor and decided to spend 24 hours straight in Cabot, from 6:45 p.m. on Friday to the same time Saturday evening.

“We did it because we could, I suppose,” said Walter C. Stanovsky ’06, who was studying for his Literature and Arts B-46, “Art in the Wake of The Mongol Conquest” final. “It was pretty fun, like a group bonding experience.”

Although nine students had originally decided to spend the night, only Munia F. Jabbar ’06 and Tania Stewart ’06 never once left the confines of the library.

Their friends came and went, bringing gifts of food for support.

Armed with blankets, pillows, Watermelon-flavored applesauce, Pringles and granola, the seven first-years took turns sleeping and studying so that someone would always be awake to watch the group’s laptops.

In between studying for Chemistry 15, “Inorganic Chemistry” and a linguistics class, the first-years talked and watched “The Usual Suspects.”

“Productivity was surprisingly high,” Jabbar said following her chemistry exam yesterday. “You don’t have to worry about your friends having fun or whatever, because they’re all there with you, not goofing off.”

“In fact, we’re going back to Cabot tonight,” she said.

Time To Cram

While the first-years sprawl on the floor of a group study room in the early hours of Saturday morning, roommates Caroline C. Dixon and Joyce Jen, both ’04, sit across the library in adjacent cubicles.

“The library is really good for cramming,” says Jen, an economics concentrator. “It really helps to see other people awake at this hour. It makes you feel less tired, for some reason.”

Dixon, working on a paper for her psychology class, agrees.

“There are fewer distractions here,” she says. “I am far from my roommates and my bed.”

The two students, both wearing jeans and sweatshirts, took occasional study breaks to whisper across the cubicle wall.

Dixon said she does not venture into the Cabot library expect for during reading period. Last Friday marked her first all-nighter.

Jen said she had avoided Harvard’s library system completely before the middle of sophomore year.

But despite their fears, the roommates said they have fared well.

“I don’t really ever see any freaks here,” Dixon says. “I see my friends sometimes, who are only here during reading period. We just laugh—it’s like a big joke.”

The Man Who Sees It All

At 3:30 a.m. yesterday, Ronnie Broadfoot navigates through the sleeping and studying students with his squeaking cart to reshelve the library’s books.

Broadfoot, a librarian at the Ernest Mayr Library of Comparative Zoology, works four-hour shifts at Cabot during reading period and exams to make extra money—“and maybe because I’m sort of a masochist,” he adds, laughing.

Broadfoot makes hourly checks throughout the course of the night to make sure students and their possessions are safe.

He said that, contrary to popular belief, there is not just one type of student who feels compelled to study overnight in the library.

“I get to see what students are studying, because I have to check the bags,” Broadfoot says. “I see what comes in and goes out, and it seems that every kind of student comes in here to make use of the long hours.”

Broadfoot, who has worked at Cabot for six reading periods, says he has seen fewer sleeping bags than usual this year, but more fuzzy slippers.

“I feel badly for the students who just fall asleep,” Broadfoot says as he reaches to reshelve a book on Penguin biology. “They come here wanting to study but their bodies just fail them.”

“I don’t understand why students stay up all night studying anyway. I think a good night’s sleep is far more useful,” he continues.

The End of the Night

There are about 30 students in the library at 1 a.m., many who have trekked to the Science Center after Lamont Library closed at 12:45.

By 3 a.m. most have gone home, leaving about a dozen students scattered between the library’s three floors.

They make trips to and from the bathroom with toothbrushes in tow, check their e-mail and stretch. As the night goes on, they take brief naps sprawled across tables in study rooms.

At 5:30 a.m. yesterday, Jeremy P. Gallen ’05 estimated that he had not left the Science Center building for 15 hours.

“I was working in the [computer] lab downstairs for a while, then I ate in the Greenhouse, and now I’m here,” he said.

Gallen, a religion concentrator who was working on a paper on aesthetics, said the stress of the library can get to be too much. He said he had seen a girl start crying in the library earlier in the evening.

“She just came up here and started wailing. She was on the verge of hysteria. My heart reached out to her,” he said.

As dawn breaks over Canaday, the sleepover ends. Students pack up their books, put on their shoes, and head out into the cold.

—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at robrien@fas.harvard.edu.