On most days of the week, you’ll find freshman David Hanifi on the topmost floor of USM’s Glickman Family Library. He’s an average-looking college guy; scraggly dark hair, a scruffy shadow of a beard, his headphones plugged into an iPod. On this day, like many before and many to come, he sits with his laptop and two protein bars laying atop two of the room’s oversized tables. Four textbooks, some about chemistry and others on calculus, lay open in a semi-circle. Today he’s been here for four hours, and he shows no signs of moving. He’s found the escape that some USM students selfishly hope remains their secret.
The Unum Provident Great Reading Room, named for its largest donor, is perched atop the sixth floor of the Glickman Family Library. The room boasts a panoramic view of Portland, which by day features Back Bay and our bustling campus, and by night a serene display of the city lights.
The room is a virtual oasis to any student seeking refuge from the incessant noise that characterizes life on campus. Within it, there are unspoken rules that are not to be violated. The silence cannot be disturbed; no cell phone rings or conversations, no deafening radios, and absolutely no speaking. It feels like the inside of an empty church.
Students obey the rules because it is one of the only places on campus that forces detachment from life’s distractions. More than that: the room is the best-looking spot on campus. The panoramic city view, the black leather furniture, and the individualized desk space complete with personal lamps and power outlets make studying on campus feel more like life at Harvard than USM.
“I’m here too often, almost every day. It’s easier to focus, and I have a really hard time (focusing),” said Haffini. “It’s a place to differentiate between your schoolwork and what you do at home. I like the solitude. You can stay at one place for hours and not be bothered.”
Two of the room’s four walls are floor-to-ceiling length windows. In daytime sunlight floods the room, warming the air like a greenhouse. At night when Portland grows quiet, the city lights sparkle below offering a romantic backdrop to gaze through when staring at a calculus textbook becomes painful. If its main purpose weren’t studying, it’d be a good spot for a date. But don’t get any ideas
The reading room was built as a part of the university’s library renovation plan. USM hired SMRT, an architectural company based in Portland, New Hampshire and New York to design and construct the room which opened in April 2004. A private, anonymous donor funded the furniture, including personal lamps at each desk seat and plush leather armchairs students often sink into for long stretches of reading. On this day a gentleman has fallen asleep in one, his novel resting open in his lap and mouth gaping open. His snores are the only audible sound besides the soft clicking of laptop keyboards and occasional vibration of someone’s cell phone, which they politely leave the room to answer.
“I think it’s probably one of the best spaces in Portland,” said David Nutty, director of university libraries (Portland, Gorham and LAC). “For hundreds of years, college and university libraries have always had a reading room; this goes back to Oxford and Cambridge in England. It was just such a neat idea that USM could build a reading room with the best location and the best view and dedicate it to student use.”
Nutty said that the room took the library to a higher level of quality. He said that it’s a selling point for the university, and visiting prospective students are always impressed with its aesthetics.
“The room says how important the library is to the university, because it’s such a nice space,” said Nutty. “It also says that our students deserve this nice, beautiful place to be. It just elevated the whole atmosphere of the library to a level that wasn’t here before.”