Opinion: Bobst Library is falling apart

Bobst is an iconic library, but it needs to be modernized so that it looks as good on the inside as it does on the outside.

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Kiran Komanduri

Bobst Library’s sweeping atrium and modern geometric architecture make it one of the most distinctive buildings on NYU’s campus. (Photo by Kiran Komanduri)

Hannah Kim, Contributing Writer

With springtime comes throngs of bright-eyed, turquoise-nametag-wearing high schoolers who can be seen sauntering around NYU’s campus. They’ll make stops at the Kimmel Center for Student Life, where the tour guide will tout the lounges as the go-to hang-out spots for students (which they aren’t) and the Leonard N. Stern School of Business, where the students will whisper to their parents that they’ve heard Stern kids are a different breed (which they totally are). The most memorable stop, though, at least according to my memory of touring NYU at 17, will be Bobst Library.

I toured NYU on the same trip that I toured Yale and Brown, and while I have no recollection of what those university’s libraries look like, I never forgot the Bobst atrium. The geometric beauty of the floor tiles and aluminum screens captured my entire group’s attention, and I couldn’t help but tilt my head back and try to capture everything in one cohesive image I could take home. Notwithstanding the important and ominous history behind the guardrails, they are undeniably captivating, and combined with the flooring and dim lights, they made an impression on me.

I didn’t get to study at Bobst much my first year at NYU due to COVID-19 restrictions, but since my sophomore year has started, I’ve gone to Bobst most days to study, and occasionally to hang out with my friends. I still find the library’s entrance just as beautiful as the first time I saw it, but now that I’ve had some experience in the guts of this building, I’ve noticed that the interior facilities are not nearly as pristine as the atrium. Faulty electrical systems and worn furniture have dampened my productivity, and it’s comical how primitive some of the infrastructure of the actual library part is compared to the atrium.

Let’s start with the main level. I divide my time at Bobst pretty evenly between the study space on the first floor and one of the quiet rooms on the upper floors — usually the fourth. Despite being the main destination for socializing and collaborative work for many students, the first floor looks and feels largely unfinished. Scraps from construction projects lean against the columns, and the chairs are flimsy and cluttered next to tables, without rhyme or reason.

Most annoyingly, almost all of the outlets are simply long yellow cords that yield only about 10 feet of reach from one of three tangled piles on the ground. If finding a seat on the first floor midday isn’t hard enough, the hunt for one of these archaic outlets at peak hours will certainly ruin your mood. I can imagine that the mostly open format of this area makes it difficult to find a solution to this problem, but there has to be a better way to charge a laptop that doesn’t involve crouching to the ground to disentangle what resembles a supersized mess of earphones.

The configurations of uppers floors suggest that an easy solution to the problem on the first floor is possible. On the fourth floor, for example, the long table study space maintains the same structure as on the first, but the outlets are installed in the tables. The issue there, however, is that in practice, these outlets are incredibly sensitive to movement or don’t work at all. There have been countless times where I’ve spent minutes trying to position my chargers just right for them to work, or where I’ve had to move seats in an already busy section to find a working outlet. These outlets don’t ever seem to get fixed either; I encounter broken outlets at the same rate every week.

Broken outlets are one thing, but non-existent ones are another. During finals season, Bobst turns into a madhouse; it took me 10 minutes on a Saturday last semester just to find an empty seat to write an essay. That seat was on the ninth floor, which was less than ideal because, as I soon discovered, there are almost no outlets on that floor. It seems that the uppermost floors are not only deathly quiet, but keep up a vintage atmosphere by providing no electricity. Not to mention the desks are so ancient you can smell the wood rot.

Although NYU likes to advertise its modern and advanced facilities, the fact that the school can’t provide adequate electrical outlets at the library is astounding. It is a problem through the school year, but becomes most evident during midterms and finals seasons.

I still love working at Bobst because when I do sit somewhere with a working chair, table and outlet, it’s very easy for me to focus on my work. Bobst is a great library — it just needs some fixing up to be as pristine as the atrium advertises.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are not the views of the Washington Square News.

Contact Hannah Kim at [email protected]