Nothing ignites fervent and impassioned support like a tournament driven by popular opinion. No matter the category, put two things head to head, and you will discover people have big feelings about which is better. It could be anything—television shows; cereals; ways to prepare potatoes; even library spaces at the University of Rochester.
On March 28, the River Campus Libraries (RCL) announced the start of “Library Space Madness” on Instagram, a 16-library space tournament to determine the people’s champion. And the Rochester community came out hot for the Physics-Optics-Astronomy (POA) Library.
“i love poa ♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡”
“POAAAA I LOVE POAAAA RAHHH POA SOLOSSSSS”
Despite looking like a clear favorite, POA was ousted in the first round by the Art & Music (A&M) Library. A&M then shelved Gleason Library by a scant two votes (181–179) to earn a place among the final four spaces. There its run was ended by the Welles-Brown Room, which would fall to the Martin E. Messinger Periodical Reading Room (PRR) in the finals. All hail, PRR.
In a tournament with 15 runners-up, A&M was the only space to miss the title but capture hearts. The narrative behind that goes like this: A&M was a dark-horse space that claimed back-to-back upset victories and flirted with a true Cinderella story. And there’s a competing narrative in which A&M was robbed of the crown.
To understand why some people see it as an underdog while others see it as top dog, we need to head into the library.
Dark horse, shmark horse
Take the eclectic, homey vibe of POA, the user diversity of Gleason, the social energy of Evans Lam Square, the versatility of Barbara J. Burger iZone, the tech-side of Mary Ann Mavrinac Studio X, and add a circulating collection like the Carlson Science & Engineering Library, only bigger. Blend it all together, and you have the A&M Library.
A veritable amalgam of all other RCL spaces, A&M draws students from all disciplines, evidenced by the remnants of equations and theories left on the whiteboards by engineering, biochemistry, math, and philosophy students. The mix of soft seating, study furniture, bookable rooms, and various resources contribute to the library’s broad appeal. And is it really a music library if the employees don’t double as DJs, playing CDs from the library’s collection?
That’s why Tom Clifford, the section supervisor for A&M Library, rejected the notion of being a longshot winner in Library Space Madness.
“We weren’t surprised,” says Clifford of the library’s popularity in the polls. “We are full all the time, and we circulate a ton of material. People like our space, and they like our collections, and to a large extent, those are two different groups.”
Two-year student employee Aydan Fusco ʼ24 (T5) also has a front-row view of the library’s crowd and knows much it is made of students who aren’t in art or music.
“It’s kind of like how non-humanities people use the Humanities Center,” Fusco says. “Because it’s not a big, open space, people can come in and kind of hide. It’s smaller. It’s homier. It’s a little eclectic. It just has a really cool vibe, and I think people just really love that.”
‘Art & Music? Never been’
How could a space beloved by so many be a mind-boggling choice for “favorite library space”? Well, to begin answering that question, we have to travel to 1986.
In the fantasy film Labyrinth, there’s a scene where Jennifer Connelly’s character is frustrated by a seemingly endless corridor. It takes a chance encounter with a worm to show her an opening that will take her deeper into the labyrinth.
There are Rochester students for whom the A&M Library is their “secret” opening.
Even though A&M is located in a well-trafficked hallway on Rush Rhees Library’s ground floor, many people breeze right past it without knowing it’s there. Simultaneously distinct and obscured, the entrance is set behind Frontispace, a Sage Art Center gallery that houses rotating exhibitions.
“I have a friend who told me he has never been to the Art & Music Library because he didn’t know it was there,” says Thanothii Ganesh ʼ24, who’s worked there since 2021. “He saw Frontispace and thought it was just an art gallery.”
Hiding in plain sight is one way the library might deter visitors; another is the effects of old age—in two years, it turns 70.
In 1955, the Art Library was created on the River Campus. (Before that, the University’s only art library was the Charlotte Whitney Allen Library, located at the Memorial Art Gallery.) More than four decades later, the sign outside the library was changed to “Art & Music Library.”
Many characteristics that make the library so homey—such as a mishmash of hand-me-down furniture—are the product of not seeing a significant refresh in several decades. But some aspects evoke discomfort more than hygge. For example, poor ventilation and steam pipes that run through the ceiling can make the space warmer than one might want. It also holds the RLC title for the fewest windows. Both issues are on the dean’s radar.
“We’re always looking to enhance our spaces,” says Kevin Garewal, the vice provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly Dean of the University of Rochester Libraries. “Although we don’t have plans on the books for Art & Music yet, we know there’s a great deal of unlocked potential here. But the Art & Music team has done a phenomenal job cultivating a unique culture and community. The popularity of this space is a testament to their work.”
Now that’s what I call Art & Music
At this point, it should be abundantly clear that the A&M Library isn’t a River Campus legend and does exist within Rush Rhees Library. (Seriously, it’s there.) To further flesh out this very real library, we’ve assembled some of its “greatest hits,” so to speak.
Not to be confused with “art books,” which showcase art, artists’ books are art themselves; the medium (a book) is the art form. The A&M Library has a small but varied selection of around 300. Examples are often on display in the library, and they’re often shown to classes to offer inspiration. A&M has also purchased artists’ books created by students for its collection—there are about 25 Rochester student-created artists' books on hand; the most recent was purchased from Angelica Aranda ʼ23, who worked in the library.
Anyone traveling to New York City, Boston, or some other major city with plans to visit a museum should stop into A&M. The library collects exhibition catalogs, which are filled with detailed information about exhibition themes and the artists included. They have added value as part of A&M’s collection because they often go out of print when the exhibit ends. Because these can be difficult to find in DiscoverUR, there is typically a display of current or recent exhibition catalogs in the library.
The library has almost 500 borrowable games across 10 different consoles, including all five iterations of the Sony PlayStation, the Microsoft Xbox 360, the Wii and Wii U, and the Nintendo Switch (non-circulating). There are plans to make the Microsoft Xbox Series S available in the fall. Users can also play dozens of games—curated by a former student—on two Steam stations.
Good old-fashioned DVDs
Maybe you don’t want to pay for a streaming service. Maybe your streaming service doesn’t have the movie you’re looking for; maybe none of the streamers do. If there’s a movie you want to watch, there’s a good chance the A&M Library has it. Not only does the library have more than 13,000 physical copies of films, but it also loans DVD drives (since laptops no longer have them).
Random cool stuff
Like plants? A&M has them and an assortment of artwork, as one might expect. One of the first things to grab the attention of any visitor is the massive third-century Roman tile mosaic on permanent loan from the Memorial Art Gallery. It’s all worth a look. And chances are, there’s a half-done puzzle waiting for you. ∎