Often referred to as “The Cage,” McCabe library inspires a wide range of feelings among the student body, many of which are far from positive. As someone who spends a large portion of my time in McCabe, I can easily see why my fellow students harbor varying degrees of animosity towards this library. As an initial critique, the walls are lined with narrow windows, reminiscent of a medieval prison. Furthermore, sometimes, when I am here late at night, friendly McCabe mice will scuttle past me, and although these small rodents are a cute reminder that there is life beyond my essays, it would be ideal for them not to be in an academic building. The seats of the carrels lining McCabe’s exterior walls are stiff and uncomfortable enough to keep even the most exhausted Swatties awake during a late-night study session. Combine all of this with bleak and colorless walls, everything serves to set a glum mood that fails to lend comfort or inspiration. Whenever I am studying on the ground floor for extended periods of time and the inevitable need to journey up to the second-floor restroom to empty my bladder arises, I am struck by how purely ridiculous it is that the designers felt no need to include a restroom on the main floor.
But all these issues aside, the defining characteristic of McCabe, the one that truly cements the name “McCage,” is the chronically dim lighting. While I was at one of the campus visioning sessions last semester, one of my friends declared, “As soon as I step into McCabe, I instantly feel depressed.” Sitting, as I am now, in a gloomy study room on the third floor, my computer screen is almost brighter than the two meager lights flickering on the ceiling. These poor lighting conditions, combined with the other structural problems of McCabe, make it difficult for the space to promote effective studying and improve the emotional, mental, or social wellbeing of students.
I often ask myself why I return to this library, night after night, to sit in these uncomfortable chairs, surrounded by narrow windows, drab walls, and dim lights. Considering the plethora of problems I have just listed, my presence here seems almost a contradiction. Yet I think that for all its flaws, McCabe has been a defining part of my Swarthmore experience, and is a space that I have grown to love, and that I believe has potential to better serve the student experience. I love the sense of community in McCabe, which I think is most clearly manifested in the collective migration that happens at 10 P.M. for snacks and coffee. Meandering over to the snack line at 10 P.M., being either delighted by the presence of Oreos or disappointed by the presence of those oatmeal-cookie-things that pop up to the collective dismay of assembled McCabe-goers, has become an integral part of my Swarthmore experience. These snacks and coffee, in and of themselves, really aren’t anything extraordinary, but the invigorating social atmosphere created by the nightly 10 P.M. study break tradition is what makes it so important. Despite its flaws, and despite the problems I, and many other Swatties, have with McCabe, it is an important part of communal structure at Swarthmore both socially and academically.
Considering the importance of McCabe, and considering that many Swatties spend a large percentage of their time on campus in libraries, the importance of these spaces cannot be overstated. While those who do not enjoy McCabe have alternative libraries they can turn to, including Underhill and Cornell, the fact remains that McCabe is the largest library on campus. While my experiences with this library cannot be said to represent the entirety of the student body, I think it is an important space that shapes social and academic culture on campus. As such, the importance of addressing the innumerable structural issues of the library must be addressed, and I hope that, in the future, efforts, such as the recent visioning process, can be harnessed to make McCabe a space that enhances the student experience. After all, it wouldn’t take that much—just give us some light!