Every Sheffield student has a library preference. Three of our contributors have decided to battle it out. Who are you backing?
The University of Sheffield campus is packed full of modern buildings with new innovations. Every few months, there seems to be news of a cutting-edge development with millions of pounds of funding behind it and that’s not exactly something to complain about – obviously it’s a good thing that so much money is being channelled into improving campus.
But sometimes you don’t want new-fangled technology and flashy modern chrome surfaces. Sometimes you want to get back to what you originally thought of when you pictured yourself as a university student; hunched over a pile of ageing books under a lamplight at a rickety wooden desk, surrounded by your most studious peers and bookshelves sagging with the very weight of their knowledge. You didn’t think of yourself in the IC, underneath the harsh fluorescent lighting and the nondescript grey carpets, nor in the Diamond with its futuristic white staircases and neon orange pillars.
Yes, a place to study is just a location and it’s up to you to sit down and do the work. But those huge windows overlooking Weston Park and the rows of wooden desks put you in the mood to be serious about it, and the blanket of quiet isn’t nearly as distracting as the constant chatter and buzz of the IC.
Of course, Western Bank isn’t perfect. The lack of café makes it inferior to the IC in the snacks department, as vending machines aren’t quite the same, and the Arts Tower Café is constantly freezing and definitely not a suitable substitute. The underground levels are slightly claustrophobic and can make you feel like you’re the unfortunate victim at the beginning of a horror movie, waiting for someone to jump out from behind the stacks of books. Most importantly of all, there aren’t nearly enough computers or plug sockets, leading to a scramble in exam period and the impossibility of getting a computer past 9.00am.
The blanket of quiet isn’t nearly as distracting as the constant chatter and buzz of the IC.
But all of this is forgiven when you look out at the pond from those windows, or when you find a tiny shabby book you know the IC would’ve thrown out long ago.
Western Bank is what university is all about.
In the dysfunctional family of University libraries, the IC is the troubled middle child. It has neither the grandeur and new-build sheen of the Diamond, nor the six-decade reputation and book collection of Western Bank. It is hot, cramped, and has lifts that alternate between broken and tooth-grindingly slow. But in a strange and psychologically unhealthy way, I love it.
In my second summer of university my Mum moved to rural Scotland, and I found myself occupying an empty student house on Crookesmoor Road for three months. It was always odd to me when friends spoke of going home – for me, home had an ant problem and a bed that would shift in the night.
I want to give it all up every time someone takes the lift to the first floor.
Being too lazy to find a job that summer, I instead found myself essentially spending a working week in the IC, alternately working on a website that two years later would land me a job and writing a novel. When I was unemployed after graduation, the IC and my alumni card gave me something to do with my day besides reading rejection letters and slowly running out of money.
That won’t be everyone’s experience – you may be more familiar with blood-boiling rage induced by people using laptops on the computer desks – but I think everyone has been saved by the IC at some point.
For me, the moment I realised there was something magical hidden deep beneath the stark lighting and mysterious rumbling was on the eve of my dissertation deadline. Journalism students don’t spend as much time in the library as they should, but that night we occupied the fourth floor en bloc. Until the last bibliography was compiled and the last cover sheet printed, there was something quite sweet in the solidarity the hideous yellow chairs and semi-open plan tables gave us. I don’t think you would have got that in the enclosed work rooms of the Diamond, or the subterranean warrens of Western Bank.
The IC tests me sometimes. Taking a three month closure to install misprinted signs and a carpet that looks like a glitched out game texture wasn’t its finest moment. I want to give it all up every time someone takes the lift to the first floor. But the memories endure.
I can’t stay mad at a place where books were written, campaigns planned and won, degrees completed, energy drinks downed, and where my now girlfriend brought me a bag of Skittles just after we met. If you learn to love the IC, it will start to love you back.
The Diamond, with its £81 million price tag, has to be one of the most striking buildings in Sheffield and for good reason. After all, it was shortlisted by the Royal Institute of British Architects for the Yorkshire Awards. Recognition from a chartered organisation like RIBA is a testament to the Diamond’s striking design. Despite this, the Diamond does have some haters.
It’s unconventional design turns people off who are too traditionalist in their perception of libraries, merely seeing them as uninspiring, pebbledashed buildings from the 1970s. They seem ignorant to its commendable use of recycled glass and steel sheets, as well as its innovative rainwater harvesting. The haters even shortlisted it for the “Worst New Building in the UK” awards. Have they nothing better to do aside from jumping onto the bandwagon of reactionary hate?
What makes the Diamond so special as a library has to be its dynamic nature.
We need only look to history to find that many great architectural monuments were despised shortly after they were erected (such as the Pompidou Center, Eiffel Tower, Washington Monument), yet are relished and celebrated today. So, consider it a long-term consolation prize if you – like myself – adore the six storey open-plan library. One day they’ll come around. Trailblazing isn’t always easy.
Regardless, what makes the Diamond so special as a library has to be its dynamic nature, from it’s conservatively sized library to its many computer areas, it really does have everything a cramming student could want. Yet, the trademark of an innovative product isn’t in its ability to give customers something that they wanted, but to give its customers something they didn’t know they wanted. Just like Apple’s touch-screen technology. This phenomenon is what is found in the Diamond.
Put simply, what the Diamond offers students is an experience. An experience which is almost as immersive as its very own virtual reality suite lab, a feature which I suspect many people are unaware of. This 24/7 experience of a library, not only made in great colourful taste but with the option of a cafe containing an array of comforting food ready to combat the malnourishment faced by the student population at large.
What could one possibly complain about?
Opinion pieces are the view of the author and in no way reflect the views of Forge Press.