I had forgotten the joy I received from checking out books from the library. When I was in kindergarten, we were only allowed to take one book from the school library each time my class went, and we were only able to take the book from the library to the classroom. When my teacher announced sometime in January of that year that we would now be allowed to take our library books home, I was thrilled. I was at that school until eighth grade, and as the years went by, the library rules relaxed around things such as the number of books we could check out at once. And I took advantage of that library as much as I possibly could. Yet something changed when I arrived at my high school. The first time I tried to check out a book from my high school’s library, I wasn’t able to do so because I wasn’t yet in the system. As coursework and extracurriculars took center stage in my life, I never really returned to the library — at least not to check out a book. It also didn’t help that everything at my high school was either online or had to be purchased.
I had forgotten the joy of checking out books from the library, but I was reminded of it once again after arriving in Princeton. I was first reminded of it when I checked out three books for my writing seminar and felt weirdly excited about the fact that the oldest due date in any of the books was from approximately four decades ago. I was reminded of it yet again in the past week when I checked out a play for my lighting design class, possibly being the first person to check out this play, since it didn’t have any previous due dates stamped on the inside back cover and the person at the Firestone circulation desk actually had to add the small “Princeton University Library Date Due” sheet to the inside back cover. As I walked away from the desk, I left with a surprising amount of joy over the fact I now had this play. It wasn’t that much joy in the grand scheme of life, but it was more than I had expected. This play was now mine until April 30 (or longer if I renew it), and it was just one of millions of items in the library that could also temporarily be mine.
I had this experience at the Firestone circulation desk only about two weeks after I had interviewed for a job at the Firestone first floor information desk. I was asked if I had been to Firestone often throughout the year, and the truth of that matter is that up until then, I really hadn’t been to Firestone very often. In addition to the times I checked out the aforementioned item, I’d only gone a handful of times to work on an essay for my French class or to work on a group project in one of the reservable group study rooms. Other than this handful of visits, I hadn’t gone to Firestone because I preferred the beauty of Chancellor Green and the proximity to my dorm of the Rocky-Mathey library. But after this interview, I took it upon myself to go to Firestone more often — sometimes to study, sometimes to just explore.
If you were to take a look at my Instagram profile, you’d see that I have indeed explored as much of Firestone as I possibly can. As someone who loves reading about campus history, I was fascinated when I stepped out of the elevators on the C floor to find a series of artworks depicting campus over the years. For example, I could see how the Mathey courtyard was built over the years: first Blair Hall, then Campbell Hall to match it, despite the old Halsted Observatory being in the way until it was finally torn down so Joline Hall could connect Campbell Hall to Blair Hall. I could see the boundaries of campus expand from just around Nassau Hall’s front and back lawns to all along Nassau Street between University Place and Washington Road and then later down the hill, all while thinking of the coming expansion across Lake Carnegie.
I had a friend comment recently about how depressing Firestone can be during Reading Period and final exams — how the building will be full, actually at capacity, with stressed students hoping to survive the end of the semester. But as I sit in the third floor William Elfers ’41 Reading Room writing this article, all I can feel is a sense of amazement at the vast number of worlds waiting to be explored past the glass doors and down the miles and miles of bookshelves. As I sit in the first floor Scribner Reading Room revising this article, all I can think is how lucky I am to still have a couple more years to explore every corner of this library.