The setting is the second floor of the library on a Friday night, I’m not wearing shoes and having a beer. There is a math equation being dotted on a whiteboard next to me and a group of girls are eating some Mcdonald’s happy meals in the corner. No, this isn’t the average student accommodation, this is the UB at the Singel. A rock of anarchy amid an ocean of exam stress, a small student-driven world of its own.
The groundwork for a university library was laid all the way back in the 16th century when all roman-catholic institutions within Amsterdam were folded into one major easily accessible library, originally in the Nieuwe Kerk and later the attic of the Agnietenkapel. However, when in the early twentieth century the library’s collection grew too big for either building. the library was moved. This time the collection was to be housed at the Handboogdoelen located at the Singel (just two doors down from the current building). The building we now know, love and perhaps on occasion dread, was designed in the 1960s by architect Jan Leupen. The design left much to be desired and is often referred to by the term ‘Koffieautomaten Architectuur’, a colloquial term used by architects to refer to buildings that are drab, uninspired or boring. Apart from the three floors and canteen we all know about, the main library section, which many students are unaware of, is tucked away at the end of the hallway next to the canteen and consists of a further four floors.
We’ve probably all been at the UB at one point in our student career at the UvA, there’s ample study space, cheap, but admittedly shitty coffee and good Wi-Fi. If your experience is in any way similar to mine you’re bound to run into at least one acquaintance every time you enter the building, be it one of your best mates, your ex you just can’t seem to avoid or that guy you met at a party one time. The library feels like a true community hub for UvA students, who are all there to get some work done.
But what makes the UB a world of its own compared to any other study space the UvA offers? Quite simply put: the freedom we as students get there. At times it feels like when you step inside of the UB you step into a little world segregated from the rest of Amsterdam. A world which is populated by 20-years old’s doing what 20-year old’s do best: take the piss. As a result of that, the UB sometimes feel like you’re stepping into the world’s biggest student house. There might be a girl crying in a corner over her thesis, but at the same time, a group of German students just had a family-sized pizza delivered from a man in a bright orange Thuisbezorgd uniform. Student culture, to me, is one of excess, being ludicrously stressed about an upcoming project and being low on money, but despite that still getting drunk. The UB with its incredibly solid workspaces used by a student literally making sandwiches to have for dinner before going to a party is where all of that excess comes together.
This small article can’t surmise the actual experience of going to the library, but perhaps the image of writing a paper with no shoes on while your mate you just ran into has a beer and a slice of pizza next to you, in a building that sells condoms out of vending machines that may or may not be used on-site, is a fair punt.
Photo: Catherine Vu