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How to Sleep in a Library

It is always too loud to sleep. There are always sounds coming from the other rooms, noise leeching in from the streets, the faucet is always dripping, pets are always pacing restlessly – it is as if there is a conspiracy against quiet. In such situations it can be understandable to pine for some peace, to long for a place where sounds are treated as the unwelcome interlopers they are, to dream of a locale where one can dream undisturbed. While most people visit libraries with the intention to conduct some activity that requires remaining awake it is not all that uncommon for some of the more sleep deprived of this set to doze off. After all, libraries are often quiet places and some of them even contain couches or other comfortable seating that lull patrons into a sleepy state. The gentle humming of the air conditioner can sound like a mechanical lullaby to those predisposed to think in such a way. Indeed, the presence of a few slumbering patrons may seem less odd than the fact that there are not more sleeping patrons! Nevertheless, before you head to the library to nap there are some things that you should consider:

1. The first question you must confront is: do you actually want to fall asleep? This may seem an unimportant question, but be assured it is not. Oftentimes an individual will be reading and find their eyelids getting heavy, they will feel their head slowly dropping, and without intending to do so they may have fallen into a momentary slumber from which they break with a jump. Such accidental napping is a result of somebody not making an active decision to stop being active. Commitment is essential if you decide that you truly want to sleep. If you want to sleep tell yourself “I am going to fall asleep” – and do so. Do not let sleep accidentally steal upon you – choose it – as this way you will awake feeling successful and refreshed as opposed to thinking “what just happened!?” Granted, you may still want to claim you have just “nodded off” should somebody disturb your repose.

2. Having concluded that you do indeed want to sleep it now becomes incumbent upon you to prepare the area immediately around you. Yes, the library has other people in it and you can trust that the librarians will remain awake; however, you are ultimately responsible for your own effects. As many a librarian will tell you: the library does not accept responsibility for things like your laptop computer, the ship in a bottle you have just completed, the books you brought from home, or your chest of gold bullion (many a librarian will tell you this). Thus, before you close your eyes you may want to place your phone in your pocket, you may want to power down your computer and put it in your backpack, and you may want to conclude that you should have left your chest of gold bullion at home as it is unwise to sleep without first securing this treasure (you did not really need to bring it to the library, did you?). If you were reading it is also advisable to use a bookmark so that you will not lose track of the page you were on. In short, you should remember that just because you are going to sleep does not mean that everybody else is doing the same. This is not a call for paranoia, but a suggestion that you consider the things you have lying about before you let your head droop.

3. Please note, before you really doze off, the following things are not to be used as pillows:

  • books;
  • keyboards;
  • archival documents;
  • archival boxes;
  • book cradles (those are for the books);
  • book pillows (those are also for the books);
  • book carts (these are on wheels, and therefore will move);
  • magazines;
  • other patrons (unless you know them really well);
  • the librarians (even if you know them really well);
  • printers;
  • the photocopiers;
  • shelves;
  • the floor;
  • the pillow that you brought from home expressly for this purpose;

Making use of any of these things as a pillow is likely to force the librarian to interrupt your slumber to ask you to stop using “[insert item from the above list] as a pillow.” Also, if you have the tendency to drool a little bit when you sleep, please make extra sure not to be using library material as a pillow. No archivist wants to add the line “page damaged by a sleeping patron’s drool” to an archival collection’s finding aid.

4. If you are a somnambulist please inform the librarian before you doze off so that the library staff knows to keep an eye on you if you start sleepwalking. Granted, if this is the type of thing you would need to warn the library staff about you might want to reconsider the wisdom of sleeping in the library.

5. Though there are always rumors circulating university libraries that “the library is open twenty four hours a day – you can sleep here all night and as long as you have a university ID they can’t kick you out” this is the type of thing that one does not need to personally test. It is also not the type of question that one needs to pose to the librarians as they are tired of being asked this question – especially if the library wherein this question is being asked is not open twenty four hours a day. It is true that some libraries have different policies regarding sleeping in the library – and while many a librarian will allow a tuckered out patron to nap, should this nap exceed five hours most librarians will feel a responsibility to accidentally make a loud noise by the person dozing so as to ensure that they are still alright. Furthermore, if you have a tendency to snore once you fall deeply asleep, you are increasing the likelihood that a librarian will be compelled to wake you as you will be creating too much noise. All of which is to say: a library is a better place for a nap than a full night of sleep, and it is advisable for you to plan out your nap and perhaps to set an alarm (preferably a quiet one) so as to ensure that you do not sleep for too long.

6. Here is an important warning: there is always a slight chance that you will fall asleep only to wake up in the future. Yes – this is obvious. If you fall asleep you always wake up in the future relative to when you fell asleep, but cases have been recorded (citation missing) wherein individuals have gone to sleep only to wake up many decades or hundreds of years later! These instances of “Rip Van Winkle in the Library” (about which there is extensive scholarship which I cannot find right now) are far more common than you may believe. A detailed study of thirty-four such incidents reveals that most of those who have experienced this time skipping claim that they were offered some moonshine by one of the librarians. Please note – if a librarian offers you moonshine from an aged looking wooden cask they are not actually a librarian but one of the library’s ghosts. Please do not drink the moonshine (unless you really want to sleep for several decades) but instead inform a living librarian so they may properly scold the ghost. On a similar note – if in the process of archival research you discover a flask of liquid in one of the archival boxes do not drink it, as it has been placed there as a cruel prank by one of the library ghosts. If you have failed to heed this advice and find yourself suddenly in the far future, please refrain from panicking. Instead speak directly to the librarian in order to determine whether or not you have genuinely been asleep for many years or if you are simply having a particularly silly dream.

7. Listen! Did you hear that? No, listen more carefully…it was certainly a sound! So much for silence. Alas, even in the library – this haven of quiet – you will be unable to fully escape noises. For even in the library you are likely to hear:

  • the sound of pages turning;
  • the sound of patrons coughing (this is somewhat seasonal);
  • the tapping of fingers on keyboards;
  • the hum of the air conditioner;
  • the sound of children (depends on the library);
  • the sound of young adults (depends on the library);
  • ringtones on cell phones;
  • the mournful groans of ghosts or other eldritch horrors (depends on the library);
  • the sound of monks puttering about (depends on the library);
  • the whirr of the photocopiers;
  • occasional snippets of conversation;
  • the music leeching out from the headphones of the person sitting at the next desk;
  • questions being asked at the reference desk;
  • noises filtering in from outside;
  • the “white noise machine” the library installed to maintain a level of ambient noise;
  • the snores of other people who are sleeping.

8. A library is a public space – even academic libraries and private collections will usually contain some broad assortment of people. Therefore it is wise to be considerate of the other individuals working around you. Thus, if you are using library materials that another person might want to use, you should return these before dozing off. You can always ask the librarian to place the materials on hold for you. Should you fail to return your materials before falling asleep you increase the likelihood of a librarian, or another patron, interrupting your sleep to ask “are you done with this material?” The best way to protect yourself from this intrusive question is to ensure that you have no material in front of you about which somebody could ask “are you done with this?”

9. If you find yourself continually falling asleep in the library and can only explain it is a result of your inability to fall asleep in your own domicile it may be advisable for you to speak with a trained professional about your sleep problems. Or – seeing as you are in a library – you may wish to seek out a book (or some other resource) that will provide you with information about sleeping disorders.

10. Should somebody rouse you from your sleep and ask for an explanation of some sort, the best answer to give is some variation of: “Is there anything better in the world than to awake and find yourself in a library?”

Vaguely Related Content

How to Avoid Ruining a Book

How to Read a Large Book on a Crowded Train

A Mechanical Moses

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

20 comments on “How to Sleep in a Library

  1. Ashwin Regmi
    March 6, 2015

    Reblogged this on Ashwin and commented:
    Sleeping in library, a big one, round a corner where no one hops, is the best way to take a nap and read.

  2. sleepyfoxwrites
    April 16, 2015

    We find LOTS of students sleeping in the reading room, even stretched out on the floor between the shelves, during finals week.

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  13. evolutionsrecall
    January 20, 2018

    Oh I loved this. Thank you!

  14. ailhad
    February 7, 2018

    This was amazing, thank you! I’m sitting in a university library right now and wondering if it would be acceptable to take a quick nap, haha~

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This entry was posted on March 5, 2015 by in Librarianship, Libraries and tagged , , , , , , .

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