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Individual Study Carrels

Student studying in carrel at Neilson Library, undated.


The original library building provided large tables for students to work at with chairs next to one another, but there were complaints about noise and distractions. Individual study carrels were an important addition to the new Library wing and reflected a change in attitude regarding students’ research and study habits.


Three students in Neilson Library carrels, c1948.


Individual study was the modern trend in education in the 1930s, as this Smith College Press Office announcement from the week of the wing’s opening explained:

"107 carrels for individual study have been placed in the stacks, wherever space allows. Each carrel, or stall, is provided with a separate table, with the best possible lighting facilities, where a student may work in seclusion. This feature emphasizes the great value of independent work."

Student studying in carrel, c1937.


Individual library carrels may have indeed inspired independent thinking, but perhaps not always in the manner President Neilson expected.



"From a library carrel I heard a girl say...," autograph manuscript in unidentified hand, undated.


Shown here is a student poem about students’ thoughts while working in the carrels:




 From a library carrel
     I heard a girl say
Why didn’t (pause)
     I go to (pause) Missouri
She repeated again in
a desolate way
Why didn’t I go… to
Where studies and
     learning are not so
And assignments are
     done with an arm
     round your waist
And it’s not just on
     week-ends that
     girls get embraced
Why didn’t I go to
From down in Missouri
     a sorrowful wail
Why did we transfer
     to Missouri
From back in the beer
     Hall, an echoing call
Why did we… transfer
     to… Missouri
We’re tired of wearing
     out fashionable dress
And existing on sleep
     of four hours or less
And trials of choosing
     what date would
     be best—
Oh “Cuddles” can
Have her Missouri.
Then the library shook
     With a heart rending
Why didn’t --
And from its dark
     walls raise this
     desperate cry
Why didn’t –
Oh we’re weary of
     solving equations for x
And we’re tired of
     developing our
Oh to try that activity
     Webster calls “sex”
Why didn’t I go to