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Instead of the blue metal carrels in Firestone Library, which have traditionally been reserved for seniors in the humanities and social sciences as they write their theses, members of the Class of 2014 in these disciplines will be assigned personal lockers. The current carrels will be replaced by unassigned open carrels as a result of Firestone’s eight-year renovation, slated for completion in 2018.  

Students will be able to store books in their individual lockers and work in the new single-student carrels. The new carrels will have their own outlets and lights and banks of temporary lockers nearby, University librarian Karin Trainer explained. The lockers will have the exact same running feet of shelf and storage space as that of the current carrels. Prototypes of the new carrels can be found on Firestone’s A level.

Rising seniors were asked to apply online for a locker in an email sent last week by Senior Associate Dean Claire Fowler. In order to minimize the inconvenience of carrying books from different floors, students were asked to indicate the floor on which they would prefer to have their personal locker, according to Trainer. 

“In the meantime,” Trainer said, “every year is a little bit different. This year, when there were still a number of blue metal carrels left, we triple-assigned students who wanted to be in blue metal carrels.”

Classics major Brandon Bark ’13 said that he used his carrel much like a locker this year. “I would just keep my books there. It was just too dark and musty, or when I did sit there, I would get an instant headache because of the mold and my allergies.”

Bark explained that, after spraying his carrel down with Lysol, borrowing an air filter from a graduate student in his department and still not being able to work in his carrel, he gave up completely.

If the blue metal carrels were to stay, according to New Jersey state law, they would have to be individually equipped with a smoke detector and a sprinkler system, which would have been completely unfeasible, Trainer said. As part of the renovation, all of Firestone is being equipped with a new sprinkler system and an energy-efficient heating and cooling system.

“This building uses an enormous amount of energy because it’s so big and so old, and it’s open all the time, so we really had to pay close attention to figuring out how to make it as energy-efficient as possible,” Trainer explained.

While Trainer said that she has not received many complaints about the carrel arrangement from rising seniors, rising seniors interviewed by The Daily Princetonian expressed mixed reactions to the changes.

While some students said they prefer larger spaces to the enclosed space of the carrel, others expressed that they had anticipated working in a carrel.

“I was looking forward to my own hell to rot in,” Lucy Lee ’14, a comparative literature concentrator, commented.

Wilson School major Ezra Spiro ’14 said that while he would not have used his carrel much, “It is a shame that we’re losing out on a Princeton tradition.” Spiro explained that he prefers open spaces like the Trustee Reading Room.

Jim Marketos ’76 had some fond memories about his carrel. He and his carrel-mate would keep their carrel door open and welcome guests when they came by. “We kept a bottle of sherry behind Volume IV of the Cambridge Medieval History,” he recalled. 

However, Marketos noted that Princeton students were not losing out on an entirely positive Princeton tradition with the transition to open carrels.

“When we used [the closed carrel],” he recalled, “we had to keep the door open. Otherwise it would get too stuffy … You closed the door and locked it when you left so that people wouldn’t go in there and monkey around, but when you were working, you had to keep it open. And I think that facilitated social interaction.”

According to Trainer, who has been at the University since 1996, the carrel change — along with energy-efficient lighting and new atriums — will help the library return to the way it was when Trainer first arrived, before the expanding undergraduate classes and library collection forced the stacks into strange places. Open tables with outlets throughout the stacks, called “oases,” were once far more common because “kids were claustrophobic,” she said.

“There used to be some easy chairs in some of these lounges and also those old-fashioned, hotel-style things to put your cigarette in,” Trainer said.

Trainer admitted that even she sometimes recalls with nostalgia how the library used to be.

“And one of the things I’ve done about that is to make sure that the best parts of the real Firestone are being maintained,” Trainer explained. “I’m looking forward to making it more comfortable again." 

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