Georgetown University students Eva Niedermeyer, Genevieve Pennanen, Hannah Fratt, Caitlín Beattie and Kristina Mish while studying for final exams at Lauinger Library on Dec. 12. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Kendell Long was parked in a dimly lit room in Lauinger Library. A blanket was draped around his shoulders. A coffee drink with a tremendously potent-sounding name sat on the table where he worked. One of those fireplace videos played in the background.

Long, a junior at Georgetown University, had been at the campus library for hours. He was a frequent visitor.

So, Kendell, have you ever slept here?

“Um, by sleep do you mean like, taking naps, or being here throughout the night?” said Long, a 20-year-old Texan.

“Okay,” Long said. “I’ve done both.”


Georgetown freshman Christopher Cassidy takes a break from studying to work on a puzzle at Lauinger Library. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

It is mid-December, final exam season on college campuses across the country. For students, that means study guides, stacks of notebooks, piles of books. Long nights, full of terrors. Stress eating. Panicked phone calls home. Coffee. More coffee. Coffee again.

And it means trips to the campus library, places such as Lauinger, a colossus that serves thousands of people during Georgetown’s final exam and study days.

For many students, campus libraries can be a home away from home, those who work in the spaces say. During this time, things get especially busy.

"Every seat is taken, especially in the afternoon and the evening," said Beth Campolieto Marhanka, head of the Georgetown library's Gelardin New Media Center. "It's just completely packed. I really think of it as sort of like a colony of bees, swarming back to the hive."

Long, who is pursuing a double major in government and African American studies, said he can spot the library regulars, the people who come in time and again. "I've developed friendships from the library," he said. But during finals, Long said, things can get pretty depressing in the building.

“It can be a very toxic-ish place,” Long said. “That’s why I’ve got my blanket here and my fireplace, to kind of counterbalance that.”

Megan Browndorf was at a reference desk, not far from the building's lobby. Browndorf, an Eastern European studies liaison and reference librarian, likes it here at the desk, where she gets to see students "doing their thing," she said. The same people come in, over and over.

“It’s really good people watching,” she said. “But it’s people watching in a not-creepy way. You’re there to be helpful if they need you.”

Here now, a brief look around the space: First, please note the printers. Students ask a lot of questions about the printers. See those reference books? Browndorf always thinks they don’t get used. Then, she’ll find one somewhere — obviously someone grabbed it and left it out. So maybe she’s wrong about that.

All around the room, Georgetown students are hunkered down, working alone. But not really. Because even if they came to this place by themselves, they are all still here together.

“One of the things that you’ll see here is that it’s a whole bunch of students who are all doing the same thing,” Browndorf said. “The way I see it is that they are feeding off of each other. There’s this kind of shared stress, but also concentration.”

Every part of the library has a different "sound expectation," Browndorf said. This particular area is quiet, but not too quiet. On a livelier floor, you'll find stress relievers — coloring sheets, Play-Doh, a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Also, snacks. The snacks are on that floor.

A chill and not-at-all-awkward thing to do, though, when visiting the library around this time is to pop into a room in which everyone is working in silence. There, you will hear a muffled cough, the buzz of building noise, a door opening, but not much else.

Browndorf called the library the “heart” of her life, and said she feels it is the heart of the university’s life, too.

“The entire point of having a university is to study and research and grow as people, right?” she said. “The whole point is that we become better humans and do more work. Learn more. And that’s the whole point of the library.”

Less than two miles from the heart of Georgetown, in the District’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, sits the Gelman Library, on the campus of George Washington University. Gelman’s entrance floor is meant to be a hub of activity. Except now.

“When you hit finals, pretty much anywhere you walk, you’ll get dirty looks from students if you’re making too much noise,” said Geneva Henry, dean of libraries and academic innovation at the school.

George Washington sophomore Libby Schiller is a frequent Gelman patron. Schiller, 19, is not a huge fan of studying in her room, she said, and she’s tried other places around campus but has found some good spots in Gelman where she can work comfortably.

“There’s these really comfy blue chairs,” she said, describing a second-floor location. “They are these huge chairs. And they have cushions on them and they’re in sets of four and I can spread my stuff around those chairs. And there’s also on that floor, there’s a bunch of tables that have outlets on them, which is really helpful.”

Gelman is a quiet place, said Schiller, a political communications major from Maryland. It is a place where people come with a singular purpose: to get stuff done.

“One of my professors actually said Gelman smells like fear during finals season,” she said. “But I don’t know, it gives off kind of a calm vibe.”

Henry said her favorite spot is the National Churchill Library and Center, a new space on the first floor. She likes the feel of the room. The layout is solid, with tables that can be moved around. Good lighting. Aesthetically pleasing.

“You can get sort of burrowed,” Henry said. “You are off of the main area. It’s like a secret place. I mean it’s a really nice place, but it’s a secret, hidden-away place.”

A few months after Henry came to the university in 2013, she met with parents and told them that the library was a safe harbor. College students could come to Gelman and ask any question they wanted. The library is a calming force, she told the parents. It is there for students, every single day.

"The students have claimed it as theirs," she later said. "It's a place of belonging. It's the place. They came here to be students, and if there's any one place on campus where they're going to affirm that they are students, it's here."