A Desk of One's Own

When a graduate student named John G. Kyriazis sits down to study in Stall C-6--his assigned carrel at the bottom of the Widener stacks--this is what he sees:

Star date 082380.708 Have found strange life forms on D-level. Organic content indeterminate. Will investigate further--Captain Earhart

He also sees this:

Why? Why? WHY? did someone cut out the article I needed?

And this:


Fate, grasshopper.

This too:

Intellectual subversion! Attitudinal Revolution! And Love and Sex!

And finally, he sees this:

People tend to return to what they know. They like stability. Do you find yourself returning to the same all in a public bathroom you happen to frequent? How about a certain desk you like to work at on this floor? Even the most liberal of people are victims of this element of conservatism in human nature. --Profound Scholar

One stack away, in stall C-6, sits living proof of the Scholar's words. "Yeah, I keep coming back to this desk," says John Driscoll '82-3. "It's got the least amount of inane graffiti. There's wonderful choice of messages over there"--he gestures to Kyriazis's stall--"and over here is a long discussion of Radcliffe women." But why this particular row of desks--Harvard has more than 100 libraries? Driscoll looks up from the pile of cards and papers and books in front of him--an Ec 1550 term paper-to-be. "Because it's subterranean," he says quietly.


Krystyn von Hennenberg '82 first came to Ticknor Library when she was a freshman, to read the Polish newspapers, she says. "I though I'd study languages too," she adds--Ticknor is on the bottom floor of Boylston Hall, the headquarters for many of the language departments.

She studies Social Studies now, three years later, but she still comes back to Ticknor Library. Today, she empties out her bag on a table in the far corner. "If I'm not so sleepy, I sit in one of the armchairs," she says. "If I'm sleepy, I sit at this table. Right now, I'm very sleepy. It makes sense, no?"

What is it about Ticknor that has called her back again and again over the years? "I like it because it's not really quiet," she says. "It's nice to know that life goes on when you're stuck in your academic hole."


The tobacco industry, it is said, has been directly or indirectly repsonsible for contributing to air pollution, hiking insurance rates, crowding hospitals, and draining taxpayers' money for subsidies. It also played a significnt role in Marianne Asaro's choice of a place to study: a long, fluorescent-lit room in the basement of Cabot Library. She has staked out a corner of the room for herself, and covered it with her belongings: notes for a Biochem 10 paper, a pile of textbooks, and a little tin ashtray with six cigarette butts. "Of all the places where you can study and get comfortable," she says, "This is just about the only one where you can smoke."


At the very last step of the Widener stacks staircase stands a single wooden desk in the corner where Church History and Theology meets Chinese History and Literature. A thin, spectacled figure sits hunched over it; he looks up in surprise when a stranger approaches him. "This desk? I found it more or less by accident a while ago, looking for a book. It's nice," he says, "It's out of the way."

He returns to his book--The Family and Alternate Lifestyles. "This must be a good place to come work during reading period," the stranger says. "Work?" says the reader. "I'm an engineering major. I just came down here to do some leisure reading."