When I was at William & Mary, I spent a considerable amount of my time in Swem. Between classes to catch up on reading, after dinner for group study sessions, and even early mornings in a last-minute cram for the big test. Despite all the blood, sweat, and tears committed to this place, some of my fondest memories of W&M are at Swem. And no matter how many comparisons you draw between myself and Brian Johnson (see: The Breakfast Club), I will not be embarrassed or ashamed of my steadfast devotion to the brainiest place on campus. Swem is truly representative of the W&M attitude, culture, and lifestyle, may have you. The constant struggle for balance between academic success and a thriving social life amongst TWAMPs (that is, of course, Typical William & Mary People) such as myself is manifested in the experience that is Swem.
The Sanctuary of Swem
I have spent countless hours in study rooms on the third floor, delirious with a semester’s-worth of information and high off of sugar-coated and calorie-injected junk food purchased on a desperate whim at Greenberrys. I have been hushed by fellow library patrons who are not so lucky to enjoy the company of others suffering this same hysteria. I’ve feasted on WaWa subs and macaroni-and-cheese late into the night preceding my Comparative Politics final, ordered Chinese dumplings and General Tso’s chicken to tide me over until my Global History paper was finished, and polished off several slices of Domino’s pizza while submitting Economics assignments due at midnight. During exam week, all-nighters were made bearable only by a quick trip to the s[tudent]exchange to pick up pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. My friend Michael and I attribute our finals successes to heaping spoonfuls of Phishfood and Cherry Garcia. Swem is a place that provides both an outlet and a sanctuary that meets all the needs of the busy college student — silent or social, snacks and massages or distraction-free, the many floors lend the library utility that extends well beyond the Dewey Decimal System and JSTOR.
The Library at St Andrews
The library at St Andrews, on the other hand, is not a place of either personal triumphs or group conviviality. Here, you’re very much on your own, and the loneliness and barrenness is enough to discourage both determination and motivation. Especially around the end of term, when stress levels have peaked and tension is on the rise, while Swem offers a safe-haven for its students and fosters the feeling that “we’re all in this together,” the university library at St Andrews is without sympathy or compassion. Swem is always affectionately referred to by its name, but the library at St Andrews is an anonymous place, one unidentifiable and undistinguished–the generic Library. Inside, the building is cold and distant, the whitewashed walls reminiscent of some sort of asylum where students are its inmates. Not at all like the vibrant greens and golds of Swem’s interior. And whereas Swem welcomes all with open arms, the swipe of an ID is required for entrance into (and exits out of) the St Andrews library.
There are only 10 study rooms (opposed to Swem’s 32), so good luck trying to reserve a spot within the next 24 hours. If you manage to snag one, it will likely be double booked, so get ready for an awkward stand-off. The Library’s layout doesn’t encourage long-term study shifts, as outlets are few and far between. Space is also small, and cramped; the interior designers clearly having opted for chic and modern over practicality. You might want to stretch before you make your way inside, because a few laps around the place to find a seat is sure to have you sweating — the heat is set to three degrees above comfortable and the sheer mass of bodies stuffed under layers of wool have birthed a steamy environ. Worst of all, food is strictly prohibited above the first floor. Whatever happened to the concept of brain food? I usually sneak in a Cadbury bar, or a few biscuits — If I’m sly they might not rat me out, but I’ve seen it done more often than not.
What is this, a library for ants?
Many a time, I was forced to return back to my room at Sallies, with a dead battery in my laptop, an empty stomach, and armfuls of work still to be completed. Never had Swem expelled me from its doors so unsatisfied. Yet, despite the disappointment so often associated with the Library at St Andrews, the town itself offers a myriad of other venues for study that serves to cushion the blow. Although W&M does offer establishments such as The Grind and Aromas, these do not compete with the café culture so prominent at St A. North Point, Cottage Kitchen, Bibi’s, Gorgeous, Taste, Janetta’s, Bean Scene, the Union and even Costa are great places not only to caffeinate, but also to buckle down and get to work. Then there are the pubs, which are prime study environments. I am a huge fan of cracking open the books while sipping on a pint–it helps take the edge off what might be a late night. I especially recommend The Central and Aikman’s.For more study scenes, also try: the library in St Mary’s Quad, the Classics Library (Swallowgate), the library in the Physics building (if you’re over by the gym a lot), and finally the infamous 24 hour computer lab off of Butts Wynd (which I honestly hope you will never have to resort to–it is a sad and desolate place rivaling the main Library in terms of desperation and defeat). Another suggestion would be the study room or library in your freshman hall or dorm. This is not where you’re going to have the most hardcore study sessions, but it is a good place to do some work and make some friends.So although I do find myself home-sick for the one-stop Swem culture of William and Mary, the ample alternatives at St Andrews force students to branch out, and experience the town that the University is a part of. And if you’re ever looking for a study buddy at St A this year, I’d be happy to let you know where I’ve set up shop for the day!