By Kate I.
When I landed on the USC campus as a freshman in the fall of 1996, the only thing I knew I needed to do for sure was find a work-study job. For fear of waiting too long and losing out, I took the very first job I was offered — a $5.25 an hour job at a campus library. USC has a multitude of libraries, and that fall was the year a brand new library opened its doors…it was beautiful, bright, beckoning, a center of social activity, open 24 hours, bays of gleaming computers, print stations, fully staffed on site technical support, and friendly, cheerful librarians to help you maneuver the clearly labeled areas of the large building. Leavy Library.
Alas, my job was not at Leavy, it was in the much older, marble entombed, silent and still Doheny Library. With narrow stacks, a terrifying cage where the dissertations were kept, and a “periodicals” section with the most amazing ceiling, Doheny was one of the older buildings on campus and the opposite of a social space, even with the Cinema Library in the basement that allowed students to watch movies on Beta, VHS and laser-disc to their hearts’ content. The lighting was dim, the stacks were dusty, and getting lost was a nightly occurrence. There was no social hour, it was a haven for grad students and for anyone looking to disappear into their work for a little while.
At first, I hated it — too quiet, too boring, too old. I kicked myself for not waiting it out or at least pushing for a newer library. It was near the end of the semester, though, as finals drew closer, and I was tasked with a Comparative Literature paper that I couldn’t write my way out of — I needed peace and quiet, focus, information, and Doheny was the only place I knew that fit the bill. Understanding a library, how to navigate it physically and informationally, became my saving grace in college more times than I can count. I learned that a good librarian is a student’s best friend. And in the years since, I make a habit of always visiting a library when I’m on any campus — it is the heart and soul of a college experience. And when I visit USC, Doheny is either my first or last stop because walking through those giant, heavy doors brings me back to peace and focus like no place other than a library can.