Skip to content ↓
MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

Library War by Shuli J. '22, MEng '23

there's nothing about war in here, that's just my fave imaginary band name

I have embarked, dear reader, upon a reading tour of my own. I have embarked upon a journey — a long journey! An arduous journey! — to visit each and every MIT library. Now I have collected my notes for your perusal in the tome below.

Depending how you count, MIT either has a lot of libraries, or a LOT of libraries. Because I count geographically, I will go with the former definition. Let’s say that MIT has four library clusters: Barker, Dewey, the Hayden/Building 14 cluster, and Rotch. I have ventured forth into each one, and now I will provide you with pictures and a Shuli-approved TM review. I have also given each a star rating out of five (but keep in mind that all libraries are good boys, and therefore these ratings might be, uh, somewhat biased).

As a last disclaimer, these are very subjective rankings and even the information provided is subject to what I found interesting or useful; as a currently-undeclared freshman, I definitely don’t provide the perspective of the whole Institute, and I’m sure that if a different person visited these libraries, they could get something completely different and equally great out of the experience.

And now, onwards!

Barker – ★★★★★★

A marble wall with an enormous doorway in the middle of it. Through the doorway, another room can be seen, with a hint of a green elevator door and another green doorway.


I’m kind of sad that I decided to put these alphabetically, because Barker is SO GOOD that it’s rude to the other libraries to lead with it. Barker is the library under the dome — you take the elevators in Lobby 10 up to the fifth floor, and then wind yourself through a bit of awkward hallway to get to the library itself.


One interesting point here is that a lot of the libraries have 24-hour study spaces, which don’t have access to actual books but can be open all the time because they don’t require staff to run. In most libraries, the 24-hour study space is slightly sad, and if your first visit is with your friend on Labour Day weekend, and it is the only thing that is open, and you really wanted to See Some Books, you will also be slightly sad. (My friend Avery ’22 and I went on a Bibliological Adventure, and although it was a good time, there was definitely a sense that we were missing out on some grandeur.)

HOWEVER, in Barker, the 24-hour study space is the part that is actually under the dome, and it is incredibly beautiful.

The side wall of Barker library, with the dome not visible. The wall is classical-looking and beige, with pillars supporting fancy moulding. At the bottom of the photo, an exit door and some study carrels are visible.

Looking up at the dome. Most of the image is taken up by concentric rings of beige squares; at the very top of the dome, there's a circular clear glass window through which bluish natural light can be seen.












It is quiet. The green squishy chairs are soft, and large, so that you can lose yourself within them. You can look up, and the natural light will stream in, and you will feel like you are looking at the stars — small and yet enormous, alone and yet so comfortably and perfectly held by the sky.

I have been told there are also books. In fact, I have a free hour on Fridays before class in 10-250 (right below Barker) and so I am here quite often; I have walked past the books on the way to the study space, and those shelves do look interesting. But the call of the dome supersedes all.


Dewey – ★★★★★

In my original draft for this post, I had given Dewey four stars because of the trek: it’s the library for the Sloan School of Management, which is all the way to the east of campus (not as far as it would be if I lived on west campus, at least!) But honestly, getting a tiny bit away from campus was really nice: I got to see familiar buildings from a different angle, and with less crowding, I could see the sunset! The air was fresh and crisp when I went and it felt like a perfect fall night.

Three photos. The leftmost one shows a blue sky with pink tones right at the bottom; in the foreground is a road and two buildings connected by a bridge. The middle picture is the same, but the sky is much darker. The leftmost picture has fewer buildings, and the orangey sunset can be seen more clearly.

Note the difference between when I walked in (left) and out (middle+right). Boston sunsets are beautiful — but quick and early.

I’m not that into business and management, and I’d expected that I would be pretty bored by the books at Dewey. In fact, they were incredibly interesting-looking!! I decided on the spot that, although I don’t have the mental brainspace to read intellectually stimulating books during the semester, I want to dedicate some of my time this IAP to doing so. Look at these book titles !!!!!!!!! There was so much cool psychology, modern history, and political systems stuff; my fingers were literally twitching as I restrained myself from taking out a huge stack.

Two photos of shelves of books. The books are all nonfiction and primarily have titles focused on historical events and social research.

Lastly, Dewey has reservable study rooms! You can tap your ID to reserve a room for hours. Although I like to work with people around, if you need a nice big table and whiteboard to yourself, this could be a great spot.


Hayden cluster – ★★★★★★

This rating is not quite as good as Barker’s rating, because it is in fact divided over the whole Building 14 cluster. Within 14, you can find Hayden library itself, but there are also two other libraries: the “Institute Archives and Special Collections” and the Lewis Music Library.

The Institute Archives have a very specific purpose, which is to store and document materials directly relating to MIT and its history. They have records of plans for new buildings, letters from faculty, pictures of students and student organizations, and generally a ton of cool stuff! I was not able to actually enter the Archives, because they’re open during pretty much exactly the hours I have class,01 Don't skip your classes, kids. but I do have these photos of the really interesting posters outside:

Three photos in a row. The first one is a poster for the "institute archives and special collections", with many smaller photos of archival materials. The second one is the founding document of MIT. The third is a plan for the Green building and which departments will be housed on which floors.


The Lewis music library is so fancy 😍 The door handles are shaped like music notes, and they have a beauuuutiful staircase with sheet music on it!

Besides that, though, it’s also a genuinely good resource for anyone who needs anything music related: they have DVDs you can borrow of operas and musical performances, toooooons of music scores (like seriously, shelves and shelves of scores), and computers with music editing software available for use! Also just a cozy place to have a seat, imo (and super close to EC if you’re into that kind of thing :0)

Three photos in a row. The first is of a wooden staircase with sandblasted glass side panels inscribed with sheet music. The middle one is an iMac with some fancy-looking sound equipment next to it. The last one is a door with a silver music note and a black music note as handles.


Hayden is what I call the “fun” library, which is to say that it has the kinds of books one might read if one was very tired of reading one’s textbooks. It also has a lot of academic materials, like up-to-date copies of science journals and students’ theses, and I imagine these would be very helpful if I were conducting research for a class (it’s the “humanities and sciences library,” so there’s lots of scope there). I had a very pleasant half-hour looking through all the super-interesting new books they had out, ranging from an LGBT horror story anthology to historical fiction to pop psych, and wished I could have taken them all out — I would have, if not for the memory of the unfinished psets sitting in my backpack. They have a “graphic novel” collection (which is 90% manga, of course) as well, and audiobooks and travelogues if that’s up your alley :D


Rotch – ★★★★★

The entrance hallway to the Rotch library. All the way in the back is a classical bust.

Rotch is not the most exciting library I went to, but it is very beautiful and cool! It’s on the second floor of building 7 (the staircase are right on the north side of lobby 7). When I walked in, I was greeted with this lovely man all the way at the back, which of course made me very happy right off the bat.

It’s the architecture and planning library, which means that it has sweeeeeet maps. There are two types: enormous maps, and freakin’ enormous maps. I was too scared to take one out and have to, like, figure out how to put it back, but o m g they were so huge and many and varied! They have international maps, American maps, and a ton of really really detailed MA/Boston maps.


In the basement, there’s a lab that runs workshops on geographic information systems and visualizing data. They’ve also got stacks with lots of architecture research books and microfiche (~microfiche~! :0) Plus: art. So much art. Aaaaaand a 1,000 piece doctor who jigsaw puzzle!!! While I personally don’t see myself doing much architecture research, the library was very cool and seemed like a great place to work or chill.

A set of four photos. Top left: a cabinet full of decorative plates. Top right: A wall with colourful triangles arranged in geometric patterns. Bottom left: An unfinished Doctor Who puzzle. Bottom right: A large white vase painted with yellow and blue patterns and what looks to be a winged dragon.


BONUS library!!! – ★★★★★★

Since you stayed with me through all this mental trekking around, I have a surprise bonus library for you! It’s the MIT Science Fiction Society, “the world’s largest public open-shelf collection of science fiction.” (Quoted from their website) Because the MITSFS is a student-run library, you do have to pay a small membership fee. But in return for $20, I secured the rights to take out tons of amazing scifi books for four years! They have alllll the old classics (I left with a few Ursula K. LeGuins I’ve been liking a lot so far) and new stuff, too (I spotted copies of Holly Black’s White Cat series!)

I really enjoyed my visit ^-^ The library atmosphere is so nice and cozy: all couches and shelves & shelves of friendly, awesome-looking books. It’s on the fourth floor02 The fourth floor is where all the student organizations are housed, as I found out on this pilgrimage, so you can discover a ton of clubs just by walking around. of the Student Center, which is nice and easy to get to, so I will definitely be dropping by in the future to replenish my supplies.

That’s all, folks! Thanks for taking this walk with me. I wish you many future cozy sessions with a wonderful book :)

  1. Don't skip your classes, kids. back to text
  2. The fourth floor is where all the student organizations are housed, as I found out on this pilgrimage, so you can discover a ton of clubs just by walking around. back to text