Where on campus can you go to hear a vocal group perform, see some improv theatre, enjoy a snack, or even read your creative writing in front of a live audience? If you didn't say "Burling," you clearly haven't been to the library in a while.
At Grinnell College, the stereotypical image of a dull, stuffy library has been abandoned in favor of one in which the larger campus community can come together, feel comfortable, and above all, relax and enjoy themselves a little. Students are certainly still studying, checking out books, and writing papers within the library walls, but thanks to a variety of events offered recently, they are doing much more as well.
As part of the spring semester's "Events @ Burling," the library offered a selection of poetry, fiction, music, and refreshments to showcase the talents of both students and community members. Bill Rudolph, former president of the Iowa Poetry Association, gave a poetry reading on Feb. 11, and students Amanda Gotera '09 and Molly McArdle '09 read from their latest literary work on April 8.
Students enjoyed the opportunity to be exposed to this kind of creative work. "It's a good way to make more literary arts available to complement the musical arts we have so much of. It's nice to have different kinds of stuff," says Mark Rosenberg '11.
In addition, students in creative writing classes read from their work in Burling this spring. "It was really cool to share classwork with your friends and the public. You take more time to make it the very best you can: it's not just something that you scramble together at the last minute," says Claire Reeder '11. "It's a pretty professional type of thing. You feel kind of important."
Also popular are the study breaks Burling offers on evenings at the beginning of finals week. Students come by to take a breather from their work, enjoy cookies and milk, and watch a performance that can range from campus a capella group Con Brio to Grinnell Improv theatre. "There are a lot of people who live in Burling during finals week, so it's great that they can get some food and a chance to watch a show while they're there," Rosenberg says.
In addition to these events, Burling is becoming a much more physically comfortable spot, thanks to the progress of an interior renovation that began in the summer of 2007. The first floor now features a "living room" area complete with upholstered chairs and brand new lamps. The library also offers complimentary hot water and tea for students. "It really helps if you need a little bit of energy but don't want to be up all night. Green tea is a great choice," says Maja Gamble '11.
Students also look to Burling Library for a space to gather and study in a more casual group setting. A group of cross country runners, for example, frequent the same area of tables on Burling first floor almost every evening. "I'll come here even when I don't have much work to do, just to say hi to people," says Henry Reich '09. "I know they all will be here." Reich noted that those needing to do more intense work can always go upstairs to one of the quieter study areas.
To sum up Burling's role in the campus community, Rosenberg compared it to the popular Spencer Grill in the Joe Rosenfield '25 Center. "The grill is where those who look to socialize can pretend to do work; Burling is where those looking to work also have the opportunity to be social."
Orginally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Summer 2009