Widener Library, the main library for Harvard undergraduates, is a three-dimensional labyrinth. My first experience in Widener lasted one hour and ten minutes, during which time I was able to find three out of the five books that I needed. The library is broken into two sections, East and West. Majestic staircases lead upwards, but the collection of books also extends below ground. In this instance, I was advised that the room I required was, ‘downstairs and through the Pusey Tunnel.’ It seemed simple enough.
The way to get downwards is via an elevator, which offered me four levels below ground (A, B, C and D). I went to C and strolled around in search of the tunnel. Silence and darkness prevailed; the lights flickered only as I hopefully traversed into each section. After some time, I returned to the elevator to try level D. I performed a similar exercise of wondering around, most probably in circles, until I spotted an arrow pointing to the ‘Pusey Tunnel.’ A trail of arrows led me to the tunnel. Just as my goal began to feel increasingly within reach, I arrived in yet another room of shelves, books and codes. Somehow the numbers were all wrong, and I was beginning to miss natural light and fresh air.
I persisted until I came to another elevator which connected ‘P1, P2 and P3’. This extra cavern below ground had yet more layers! I figured out that I was on P2, and took the elevator down to P3. This floor contained a series of bookcases that moved along rails. Here, I finally found my row, pushed some buttons, and watched the shelves magically rearrange themselves.
‘I can’t believe that people manage to successfully navigate this library on a regular basis!’ I commented to a man that was also waiting in line to check out books. ‘Oh, they don’t,’ he said, ‘there’s a button on our online accounts where you click to request a book. The librarians find it for you and you receive an email when the books are ready for collection.’ Since that moment, life has been significantly easier.
In contrast to Widener Library, New York City is miraculously easy to navigate. Avenues numbered one through to twelve line Manhattan from north to south. Streets cross the avenues perpendicularly from East to West, beginning from 1st Street to 220th Street. There are exceptions, such as the auspicious Madison Avenue and Park Avenue, along with pockets of muddled streets in the areas below Greenwich Village, which is where the street accounting system begins. Nonetheless, no matter how long or short the road ahead, it is generally possible to position oneself within the grandeur of New York City.
Sometimes, the seemingly simple things throw us off. Equally, we may find the strength to circumvent unimaginable challenges. While navigating life may sometimes seem as complex as navigating Widener Library, we must hope that there will also be periods that proceed smoothly and magnificently, just like a sunny winter’s stroll along Fifth Avenue.
Spot the Difference
- In Boston’s cafes, where several kind baristas address me by name at this stage, the norm is to clear away after yourself. Rather than leaving everything on the table, people place all used cups and plates on the designated trays and dispose of their rubbish (trash).
- As astutely observed by my visitors, the toilet flushes are significantly more powerful here compared to the ones in the U.K. It can be somewhat frightening and leads to high water consumption, but it certainly gets the job done.
- Extreme enthusiasm seeps into many aspects of American life. When this extends to areas that are already bouncy, Zumba being a clear example, this becomes highly entertaining or rather annoying, depending on the day. Some winning words of wisdom offered by my Zumba teacher include: ‘Fake it until you make it!’, ‘Don’t worry if you do something wrong, this isn’t school, I love you!’ and ‘As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you can do whatever you like.’