Editor’s Note: This week’s blog is by Naomi Heindel as part of our ongoing series on our favorite reading rooms. From the spacious reading room at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, we travel to a tiny library embedded deep within Dartmouth College’s physical science building. Many thanks to Kim Wind, Program Administrator, Environmental Studies, Dartmouth College, for the photos.
When the idea of a series of blogs on our favorite readings rooms was posed, there was no doubt in my mind which library I’d choose. Hornig Environmental Studies Library is likely one of the smallest of its kind, but it lives large in my personal history. As a freshman at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, I remember wasting precious hours wandering the campus looking for the perfect place to work. A space perfect for reading, writing, and studying, but also a place perfect for me and my work style. That last part was the hardest to figure out, as I wasn’t sure, then, what I needed in a space, or a college course, or a college at all, for that matter. The main library was too loud and public, the stacks were too dusty and dark, old Sanborn Library was too quiet and nap-inducing, most tables and nooks felt too small, restrictive, and even depressing, offering enough room for a computer but nothing more. As I wandered, the pressure, and my feelings of frustration at the rejected work spaces, the college, and myself would grow immense.
And then, sometime that first year, I found Hornig Library. The route that I walked between my house and Hornig became automatic; I stopped searching and settled in.
Hornig Environmental Studies Library, built in 1997 and named for Dartmouth Environmental Studies and Chemistry Professor Emeritus James Hornig, is made up of four tiny rooms: a main room for reading, a small computer lab, an even smaller room lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stocked with environmental studies and environmental science essentials and classics, and a side room with a large wooden table. I would spread out at that wooden table, sprawling books and notebooks and papers across the entire thing, encamped for hours. The room with the wooden table also had white boards on three of its walls; I filled these with the outlines to my senior thesis, always pleased to find them untouched the next day.
When I needed inspiration, I’d peruse the crowded bookshelves, spotting Terry Tempest Williams, The Population Bomb, the works of environmental activist Winona LaDuke, Walden, environmental science textbooks written by Dartmouth professors, Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature, my first copies of Orion Magazine, and, one day, a book by Professor Hornig himself entitled Social and Environmental Impacts of the James Bay Hydroelectric Project. If ever I doubted that Hornig Library was my ideal space, that doubt vanished when I saw that book on the shelf: my thesis – still outlined in the room with the large wooden table – was on the very set of environmental, cultural, and social issues tackled by Hornig several decades before. Like me, Hornig first traveled in James Bay – a First Nation territory of northern Quebec – by canoe. I liked to think that his work, like mine, was inspired by his northern paddling adventures and love for the landscape and people of the boreal forest. Maybe he – maybe all of the authors on the bookshelves of that little library – also struggled to balance their love of being out in the natural world with their academic and intellectual pursuits.
I know that Dartmouth’s environmental studies department – started by Hornig in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day – has made great impacts and will continue to have a growing legacy. But for me, its greatest contribution was one tiny library, and the space to read, write, research among like-minded giants, and realize, slowly, that I was actually in the right place.
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