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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Dungeon emits unnecessary sounds

Published: October 23, 2014
Section: Opinions

As midterms roll around and more and more papers are due, I find it necessary sometimes to find someplace quiet in order to get my work done. Now, if you ask anyone on campus where the best, quietest spot would be, they would point you to the dungeon—the bottom of the library, on Goldfarb 3. Other than random pockets around campus that might be empty, this is the designated quiet study area on campus. It has numerous desks set up and signs everywhere directing students to make sure they stay quiet. Yet whenever I head down there to get some work done, I’ve found it’s anything but quiet.

Sure, no one is talking or has music playing to distract you, and if someone does breach the social contract in place by raising their voice, they are quick to be reprimanded by others studying. So it’s not that the rules are being broken, per se, but it’s impossible to find total silence in the dungeon. Instead you find that the near-silence simply winds up annoying you.

Of course, with a multitude of people in a location, squeaks and squawks are bound to arise. But the noises emanating from the dungeon are more frequent than some random occurrence. The sound of pages from a Norton Anthology turning as someone reads for their English class the next day and the squeal of the highlighter dragging across the page are all expected sounds. But everyone can also hear the clicks and clacks of someone pounding away at their keyboard to meet their midnight deadline on LATTE for a sociology paper. Phones vibrate on the wooden desks as friends wonder what’s taking you so long to finish your homework.

Most of these clattering noises are the somewhat inescapable phenomenon of studying, but really, the sound of keyboards and turning pages is increased by the fact that there are no other sound waves in the air to drown them out.

The most egregious noise from whenever I’m down in the dungeon is the door that leads to the stairway in the middle of Goldfarb. The main stairway, which stands between Farber and Goldfarb, is free range and has no door, but the other one is guarded by a large, metal fire door. This is a door that gets used frequently and always manages to squeak as someone opens it. It also makes a decent-sized thud as it closes. Some people are aware of this and make sure to close the door carefully, deafening the thud, but when people are busy and want to get started on their work, they simply walk away without worrying about the door. Perhaps a few drops of oil could loosen up the hinges and stop the door from squeaking each time it opens. Maybe it isn’t even necessary to have the door there in the first place, though I’m sure there’s a fire code somewhere that prevents that from happening.

Still, the silence one would hope to find in the dungeon isn’t there, and I found my mind was more preoccupied with trying to disregard any noise arising than the book I had to read. Sure, using a pair of headphones and listening to either music or just some white noise would drown out anything around you, but that’s true of studying just about anywhere. I went to the dungeon to really focus on my work instead of possibly being distracted by music or even an open computer, where I can waste away time on the Internet. The dungeon should really be a place of complete silence, yet it is almost impossible to find it there.

Maybe more sound-proof barriers could be put in place between each workstation. I remember watching the Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn film “The Internship,” and they featured these pods with a large globe structure encircling your head, the kind Google employees could use for naps. That could be part of the magic of Hollywood and might not really work to begin with, but I’m sure there are workstations out there that offer more isolation than the wooden desks in the dungeon already. Besides, these desks could use an upgrade already; the graffiti etched in pen include references dating back to the Reagan administration. Still, some sort of roof to the desk and more space between workstations would drastically improve the level of quiet found there.

Even with these improvements, I’d imagine there will never be complete silence in the dungeon. The rogue cough and other bodily functions pop up all the time, and simply can’t be helped. So maybe the best course of action for someone like myself, who desires total silence for studying, can be to get out of the library altogether. In exploring the campus a bit, there’s probably an empty classroom somewhere that I could exploit for a few hours, or a corner in the basement of a building adjacent to an outlet where no living soul could find me.

One of the Simon & Garfunkel’s most famous songs is “The Sound of Silence.” It basically talks about a dream the narrator has, where he finds a multitude of people talking, but this concept of the sound of silence is not disturbed. An oxymoron if there ever was one, the words ring true in the dungeon of the library. Even though it is maintained as a “silent study space,” there is still a sound that forces itself out of the wooden workspaces.

Maybe these words ring true for everywhere in life—there will always be a sound emanating out of silence, and we will never find complete silence. Still, we might as well keep looking, in order to procrastinate even further from getting our work done.