Walls

One of the things you can’t help noticing when you arrive in Cambridge is the architecture. The buildings with their archways and courtyards and the narrow cobblestoned alleyways. And the walls that surround them all. Signs warn that this area is PRIVATE, or that the grass is for the enjoyment of those more privileged than the reader.In fact the whole place is designed to regulate behaviour in very specific, time honoured ways so that at every turn you are made aware of your place — or rather, just how difficult it is to get to the next. I’ve enountered this not only in walking around the city, but in all of its institutions, from its bike shops to its banks. The most curious example is probably the University Library, which is a rather imposing building already, since its tower is by far the tallest building in the area. Before even arriving there, however, it was more than a challenge to discover whether borrowing rights extend to every member of staff by default. The Library website lists 10 different categories of university staff. Exactly which of these I fit into is still a mystery to me. Despite assurances from some colleagues that staff are unlikely to receive sanction from the venerable UL Admissions Office without considerable effort, I decided to presented myself to the front desk to politely enquire as to the process. I was told that I would need to return with a copy of my employment contract. Dutifully, I returned the next day with my contract, and I was directed to a waiting area outside the Admissions Office, which has a sign on it reading “Please do not knock on this door. We will attend to you at our earliest convenience.”When I was eventually invited in for my interview, I was asked a few questions about my “status”, and finally my University ID card was registered with borrowing rights. Even though I realise that most universities have procedures for all of these things, it’s the feeling you get just being here that gives the impression of exclusivity. When I finally managed to get into the hallowed building it was only under careful surveillance, in an orderly manner, through an electronic turnstyle that required a manual override from library staff. Then I realised I was out of time and left immediately.

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