Talia Talk: Uptown Girls – Researching the Ladies of the Library
In the Hedi Steinberg Library at the height of the jolly fall Midterm season, the air is filled with a festive blend of estrogen overdose fused with Adderol, anguish, and the scent of those diet squash kugels from the caf. As I sit surrounded by book spines and those students trying to hide their dinners from the on-duty librarian I find myself particularly uninspired by my stale work environment. Perhaps it is the aura of Pre Midterm Syndrome that is the typical of that time of the semester. However, I soon realize that the true reason for the disturbance of my studies is not only the atmosphere, but rather my seat. It is an unfamiliar spot for an English major like myself, amongst the Einstein Scholarship competitors. For my Makom Kavuah has been claimed hours ago, not by an actual person, but by her backpack. As she is off in the caf or on the phone, her Jansport remains in my chair, taunting me. But my new seat isn't too terrible; it's the perfect distance from my whimpering neighbors. I am just close enough to feel the moisture from the little droplets that splash into their organic chemistry textbooks.
As I turn to my own studies I find that Virginia Woolf faces a similar struggle with her own environment. In her revolutionary work, A Room Of One's Own, she first tells of a visit to Oxbridge (A fictional University alluding to both Oxford and Cambridge). At Oxbridge, she partakes in a grand feast of roasts, wine and rich deserts, "And thus by degrees was lit, half-way down the spine, which is the seat of the soul, ...the profound, subtle, and subterranean glow which is the rich yellow flame of rational conversation." Woolf explains how the ambiance created by the aesthetic pleasures and first class service helped stimulate profound thought and free flowing dialogue between the luncheon attendees. She then contrasts this experience with a similar luncheon at Fernum women's college in which she is served a scantly portion of shriveled beef and prunes. The conversation there is thus shallow and uninspiring, because, she explains, "One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." After all, "The lamp in the spine," she writes, "does not light on beef and prunes." Apparently, neither does the lamp in my desk.
Virginia's stream of consciousness began to spark some thoughts of my own: if our environment so strongly affects the quality of our thoughts and feelings then isn't it a crucial element in our study habits as well? If Hedi's atmosphere is less than ideal, surely we must be able to find a more thought provoking spot for our studies. But Starbucks has an overdose of hipsters and overpriced lattes for the liking of most Stern Students, and New York Public Libraries close at eight o'clock most nights.
However, there is one library in Washington Heights that is an oasis of intellectual inspiration. The Yeshiva University Mendel Gottesman Library consists of five floors filled with books, computers, and study and socializing space. The library's hours are conducive to our intense double curriculum schedules and it is located only a short trip uptown away from our own campus. However, one need not study the situation to closely to find that the environment at the Gottesman Library is less than open minded when welcoming female visitors.
Here at Yeshiva University, we love stereotypes just as much as our secular college contemporaries. And there is no YU stereotype more infamous than the "Library Girl." She is perhaps better known as the Stern student who struts around the Gottesman Library under the guise of academic pursuits when the only thing she is truly pursuing are the Yeshiva College students. She has certainly attracted a bit of attention over the years and her notoriety has even spread to outside of our University community. I have been asked on numerous occasions by my friends at Queens College, "Is it true that girls are desperate enough to travel all the way to YU just to ‘study'?"
We all have opinions on her. We have been her. Never had the guts to be her. Dated her. Gawked at her. Adored her. Mocked her. Or simple dismissed her as frivolous and desperate. So I decided become a Library Girl. I began my journey with a quick ride on the shidduch shuttle over to the Gottesman Library where I would attempt to explore this phenomenon and perhaps, find something to light my spinal lamp.
In my research, I found that the stereotype has been broken down into three different breeds:
1. Third Floor Girl
a lady who makes her way uptown to come to meet guys and socialize.
Ex. Dolled up flirts who are interested in checking out more than books. Can be identified as the lady sitting alone at a large table.
-Often heavily engrossed in girl hock over gchat, Facebook, or anything else other than a Word Document or Wikipedia
2. First Floor Girl
a woman who actually comes to do work but is additionally open to socializing.
Ex. Any female who throughout her day school education managed to develop both study
skills and social skills.
-Can be identified as the Stern student behaving in a completely normal manner.
3. Fifth Floor Girl
studious females who have the power to make any approaching male feel uncomfortable.
Ex. The frumshanista, or self appointed floor monitor
-Including but not limited to girls with boyfriends.
As I make my way from the shuttle down Amsterdam Avenue I am once-overed by two of my friends who are students at Yeshiva College. "Wow, you look fancy!" "Who are you going to see?" buchrim A and B each teased, respectively. "Maybe, I just dress well. Have you ever considered that? Because this is the exact outfit that I wore to class today."
It's ironic: Stern classes are often criticized for being overly glammed-up fashion shows, and still, the students who enter the Uptown library are accused of taking extreme efforts in attempting to look presentable. Perhaps Stern Women simply take pride in their appearance. Or maybe Jewish girls are just pretty. Even if a lady does take extra care to groom herself before venturing uptown does that give license for anyone to mock her for "wanting a boyfriend?" You know what? She is twenty years old and it's perfectly normal if she wants to put her best face forward when encountering the opposite sex. The only unfortunate factor of the scenario is the fact the hecklers in Nagel Bagel are the ones making up the demographic for her supposed social and intellectual counterparts. Although, with those playground taunts they have most likely proven themselves unfit for her pool of potential mates. Even if the last female that they have interacted with is their bio lab teacher, that is still no excuse for making a lady feel uncomfortable simply for simply looking cute.
So what exactly is the problem with the Library Girl? Isn't she simply another friendly fictional character that we have imagined in order to more efficiently categorize our fellow schoolmates? Like the sketchy foreign guy on Shabbatones? Or the girl who wears pants? One issue thatI have so uncomfortably experienced firsthand is that the stigma prevents women feeling welcome to travel uptown, therefore further separating Yeshiva and Stern Colleges both socially and intellectually. Because they fear being labeled as predatory shallow flirts they make no efforts to travel uptown and disprove the stigma. And for those students who do want to socialize? Weighing every interactive gesture as an assertive mating call makes the natural behavior of young adults quite simply super awkward.
So is this detrimental stereotype simply another silly theory? If so, then where does it originate? "I'm sorry but there is no way that it's so terrible in the Stern libraries," scoffs one skeptical YC Senior. "It's hard to believe that the best solution that these girls have found is to start taking a half hour shuttle ride." Agrees his fellow senior, Adam Kugelman. Although maybe taking a shuttle ride going over the FDR Bridge might help to enlighten their spinal lamps on the facts of our two campuses: The Gluck library holds 640,000 books while the Hedi Steinberg library in Midtown houses 150,000. The Hedi Steinberg sits 140 and while I was unable to obtain the number of seats in Gluck it is clearly a lot more than that. That means that there are 913 The students are left seatless and competing over my Makom. As for the history of the Library Girl?
"Well, first of all, we refer to Stern students as women, not girls, and they have been coming to the library as far as I can remember. It is certainly not a new phenomenon," remarks Pearl Berger, Dean of the Yeshiva University Libraries. "It is not news that the Midtown Library has fewer seats." However, Dean Berger made it very clear that this is not in any way rooted in chauvinism, or disrespect to the Stern students. The Gottesman Library, she explained, is the central library building for the university, and its collections supportAzrieli, Revel, Wurzweiller, and RIETS as well as the undergraduate programs. "Naturally, a more advanced level library is required. But this is not the exclusive territory of YC students -Stern Women are encouraged to come to the Gottesman library."
"Of course we want more seats, computer study areas, joining of the reference and main libraries. We have been requesting those things for years," states Professor Edith Lubetski, Stern College head librarian. She assures that there is indeed a plan within the university for implementing these improvements, but points out that, unfortunately, in light of the economic situation and the skyscraper high prices of Mid-Town real estate, these changes are difficult. "But actually," she adds, "students don't really send us very many requests about what they would like." Even so, Prof. Lubetski and her team of librarians have made tremendous efforts in the past few years in library improvements, with the library now providing 358,000 e-books equally on both campuses. YULibrary has also created a buzz-worthy new Twitter account where males and females alike can join the sixteen other Tweeters in receiving Tweets like "Hedi Steinberg Library now open on Saturday nights for Midterms." Who knew? But although the technological advances are truly adding progress the internet remains the only place where the sexes truly come together.
Well, perhaps not the only place. It seems that the men of YC are not the only ones to blame for said stigma. Many Sternzies look past the inferior resources and admit to joining them in their stance on the gals of Gottesman. "For me a Library Girl is a Stern student who will study uptown whether it makes sense or not," states one self-declared Non-Library Girl.
"I've only been there twice in my three years here, and try to avoid it as much as possible,"she said. "I think that the University is sending very mixed messages. The separation between the sexes needs to be much clearer. The administration should implement a uniform policy on their hashkafa. It's very hard to balance. After all YU is a Jewish school and we need to maintain the conducts of Bnei and Batei Toirah even in the library and clubs." When asked about her personal reason for remaining in Mid-Town she answered honestly, "Maybe it's for the stigma. But I just don't feel comfortable. I honestly don't know how the boys feel but it might make them upset. They are choosing to immerse themselves in an all male environment and the girls who are socializing should just be considerate and examine their motives. Maybe they are creating an environment that the boys don't want."
Or do they? Laura, a Princess of the Library found that her YU fairy tale was only a shuttle ride away. "I used to travel uptown all the time to study, socialize and get my much needed fill of testosterone," she reminisces. "I was studying with a friend [yours truly] and a friend of hers came to talk and walk us to the shuttle. Soon he friended me on Facebook, we started talking, then dating and now I can't get rid of him. And you know what? I'm pretty sure that my fiancé doesn't care that I was once upon a time a Library Girl. In fact he's proud that he was given the opportunity to take a chance and ask me out in a normal setting." I know that I most certainly am! Now that they're engaged I can continue to shamelessly write scandalous articles and remain only two thirds away on my path to Shamayim.
However, if true Library Fairy Tales are told, most adventures do not end in happily ever after. We all know that most princesses are not BBMing with a bevy of new gentlemen suitors as they are taking the shuttle back to midtown. Granted, this may be because ladies are more likely to go searching for a book than Prince Charming. Or perhaps the issue lies in the less-than-magical realities that do not seem to be present in fairy tales. It may be due to the prohibition of true love's kiss, or maybe a discouragement from essentially any contact whatsoever. But the problem that any lady who has even ventured into an elevator with a YC student will tell you is that all they do is stare. A lot. And the ones who really know what they are doing? They don't look at all."
"If I see a cute girl in the library, I just marvel at her. I would probably be too embarrassed to say hi," admits one shy YC sophomore. "If I see a pretty Stern girl? I probably wouldn't approach her. Maybe if I went to a school like NYU or Maryland, but it's just not done here," reflects Jonathan Mael, a super senior. So, if Library Girls are rumored to be the most desperate students in Stern, then why are these gentlemen so hesitant in approaching them? Perhaps, it is because if they do the research into their souls, even they don't truly believe the stigmas. It is the men who are uncomfortable interacting with women , therefore they avoid conversation altogether, communicating only by name-calling and awkward stares But why is that? Is there something sinful about the natural way in which our parents and grandparents met? Shouldn't the library be our social watering hole? The way in which it's structured makes it overall pretty unthreatening. The bookshelves provide the security of a halachic machitza. But if you want to take a book, there is just enough room to glance through. In a way it has potential to be our generation's version of the Biblical-era well. The reason you go isn't for romantic pursuits. However, you can tell a lot about a potential mate in their natural setting. At the well a woman measured a man by his sheep and strength. Now, intellect and ambition are valued.
One gentleman, when presented with this theory, did man-up to the challenge. "You want to see how I pick up girls in the library? I'll show you." And with that we made our way to the third floor where he began working his charms on a lady immersed in her studies. She was initially taken aback by his forward approach but was eventually smitten and granted him her number. In a text conversation later that night, he asked her if she would be returning to the library the following week. She immediately became extremely defensive and insisted that she was simply stuck uptown and never planned on returning to her study spot.
Apparently, she prefers to leave the spot that brought her social and academic success, and is instead opting to join my bio buddies and I in the less-than-favorable environment of Mid Town. Perhaps the backpack guarding my makom belongs to her. In the dimmed light of my broken bulb desk, I read as Virginia Woolf is banned from the Oxbridge Library. Even though Yeshiva University has no official rule banning us from our academic pursuits up town, it is the stigma that is keeping us out and confining us to the library of our own. Students fear not the violation of University policy, but of a social code that our culture has created. And why do we even care how long she spent on the shuttle or what the accounting major with the social skills of a sixth grader thinks as he thinks as he stares you down? Why should it be any one's concern who comes to study, who comes to socialize, and who truly is a predatory flirt? No research required; it's because we are all worried about a dark stamp from the labeling and alphabetizing system that we have all let define us, the fear that our potential suitors will do their homework and we will end up with a black stamp and on the banned list.
And so, we resort to hermitting ourselves in our cubicles of our respective campuses. Which is unfortunate because, contrary to popular belief, Yeshiva University encourages the benefits of coed interaction in informal education. Ideally the library should be a think tank, a place of sharing ideas in a place with those you may not be able to share a classroom with. So now I will tell my friends at Queens that I am indeed a member of the infamous Library Girls. Not that it's any of your business. Because my fellow students here at Yeshiva and I don't ask about your inferior education or a lack full college experience. So please don't inquire about our study habits, thank you very much.
So: am I going to return to the dim lights of Hedi or make the infamous trek on the FDR once finals roll around? I still don't know. But I also fail to find a reason why anyone should care. Because Library Girls should be that: Girls who go to the library. We all need to simply stop looking around at everyone else and put our heads back into our books. After all, did we come to the library to study the library goers or simply to study? As for the final question: Did I travel uptown to study the library girl and research the source of the stigma, or simply to flirt with YU boys? Perhaps no one will ever know my true motives. But I will share one key fact that I have found through my research: I absolutely adored every minute of my time as a Library Girl. Happy Studies!