The aim of this article is to convince all of you to reconsider your stance on one of the campus’ most indubitable beliefs: that McCabe library sucks. I know. This is a scalding hot take. In fact, when I told my fellow editors I was about to undertake this task, I was greeted with frowns and dazed looks of puzzlement. “It is so austere. How was it even planned? The interior feels like they got proposals from fifty different architects and then the college decided to go with all of them,” one said. “Why would you do this?” They asked. Well, it’s because I love the place.
Ever since I came to Swarthmore, I have always found McCabe to be the best location to study in — specifically, the often-hated desks that line the sides of McCabe basement. I’m not sure what it is about these desks that cause so much disgust and fear amongst the students here. Is it the cobwebs that line the abnormally thin windows that only allow us to peek through a sliver of the outside world — making us feel as if we are imprisoned within McCabe’s walls? Is it the yellow ceiling that is slowly getting more and more yellow from the intermittent mold issues that arise throughout the year and the leaking pipes that every now and then let down a little drop of water on our heads as we cower over the books? Or is it the dimly lit stacks of books that enclose you and always keep me wary of my periphery.
To me, though, the McCabe basement desks are a haven of productivity. The words etched into the wooden tables contain wisdoms of truths penned by Swatties that walked our paths and halls from decades ago. They represent who we were, who we are, and who we can strive to be. Nothing makes me want to do work more than reading “WHY AM I HERE? STUDY ≠ LIFE EXPERIENCE.” Nothing invigorates my drive to succeed more than to see “SPANK ME DADDY OK PLEASE.” Nothing gives me more hope in our quaint little ‘matchbox’ than to see a budding romance blossom in front of me: “She’s really cute / You’re cute too. / Go get her! / It’s U.” And there are few better things that you can do to cement your legacy at this college than etching your own messages into the wood of McCabe’s desks.
Pre-pandemic, one of my favorite things about McCabe was the Coffee and Cookie table. Late at night, when you are struggling to turn in work and need a little extra juice, Dining Services would set up a booth in the small squared off area in the middle of the first floor where students can visit to grab coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies. This disappeared for a while due to the mask mandate, but now a different manifestation of the table is back, located in the renovated section in the far side of the library. Don’t waste your points at Sci Café – come to McCabe!
And, finally, I can never reiterate often enough how incredibly lucky we are to have the Friends Historical Library and the Peace Collection within McCabe. In the four semesters that I worked at the Peace Collection, I grew to understand the amount of work and dedication the staff there put in to maintain this amazing resource. Mary Beth, Anne, Vicki, Grace, Rachel, and the now-retired Wendy Chmielewski spend most of their days in the library basement curating collections of material that not enough of us seek time out to explore. So, even if you don’t enjoy McCabe as a study space, take time to visit it and take advantage of its resources before it’s too late.
Writing from the basement in McCabe … We were incredibly lucky to have you work in Peace, Best! Thanks for the shoutout to McCabe basement and the Peace Collection folks. I’ve always enjoyed your writing and perspective. You’re the Best! Stay well, Mary Beth
THank you for highlighting the treasure trove that is etched messages in the study carrels! A welcome perspective on the lived history of those spaces. And as you make so clear, more than anything it is the people, students and staff, dedicated to curating this ‘amazing resource’ that makes the experience so valuable.