By early February, you’re in the thick of it. The first (and arguably never-ending) wave of midterms has started, the dead of winter is upon you and your resentment at those Northwestern brochures of students reading on the lakefill in Spring is at an all-time high. If you haven’t quite caught on yet, the beach isn’t exactly a hotspot for studying this time of year. Indeed, all the action takes place indoors, and with a plethora of options, it’s easy to find an experience tailored to your study (or procrastination) needs.
Sometimes to truly focus on work and tune out distractions, it’s necessary to get out of the campus bubble – the less chance of seeing someone you know, the less chance you’ll strike up a long conversation just to procrastinate. The Evanston Public Libraries (EPL) can provide a nice quiet place to get work done. The interesting thing about public libraries is the way that they all manage to look similar despite geographic location – the same carpeted floors, kids' reading rooms and anachronistic collection of CDs. If nostalgia for days-gone-by and an assurance that university students won’t see you sounds appealing (a recent visit to the library saw mostly high schoolers), try out the EPL. For those seriously committed to getting off-campus, libraries in Rogers Park and Edgewater are accessible by train but are open for such a short amount of time (6-8 hours) that it might not be worth the commute. The Book Cellar in Ravenswood boasts considerably better hours (10 a.m. - 10 p.m., most days) and the atmosphere of both an independent cafe and a bookstore, but involves considerable walking or bus transfers on the CTA.
The premise is simple: You need to study and you need to stay awake while you do it, so why not kill two birds with one stone? The definite upside of working in a coffee shop is a constant supply of caffeine at the ready. Most of these are located in Downtown Evanston, like Kafein, Unicorn Cafe and the Other Brother Coffeehouse. Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Starbucks also have their Evanston locations in this little hub, but Coffee Lab is a prime option closer to North Campus. The benefit of easy access to snacks and beverages comes at a cost, however. One of the quintessential features of the coffee shop is the noisy din that’s an accumulation of conversations, coffee grinders and espresso machines. If you like to study somewhere quiet, this probably isn’t the right kind of place for you, but if you prefer white noise in the background, definitely stop in a coffee store. Most independent stores tend to have fewer hours, but chain stores like Starbucks stay open late into the night for your studying convenience. The former also tend to be more expensive, but chances are better that you’ll have at least some modicum of peace and quiet – and that you’ll get a place to sit – at Unicorn or Kafien as opposed to Starbucks.
It’s important to acknowledge that there is (for most students) a considerably strong correlation between the hour of the night (or morning?) and the amount of work that gets done. There are those who like the pressure of working on a deadline, and can easily learn an entire quarter’s worth of material or tear through 200 pages of reading in a single night. Then, there are mere mortals, who are probably self-aware enough to realize that past 2 a.m. the amount of time they spend studying is severely compromised in favor of checking Facebook or reading BuzzFeed articles. If you need somewhere quiet to study, staying in the library until it closes, or working from home is probably your best bet. At the risk of divulging one of the best kept secret dorm hacks, true multitaskers will do their reading while they wait for their laundry. The gentle hum of the washers and dryers is great white noise, and it feels so thrillingly productive to get two onerous tasks done at the same time. However, if you’re looking for all the fun of a diner with all the denial of how much work you have to do, try Fran’s, the late-night cafe in the Willard dining hall. Lisa’s on North Campus provides a similar concept, but with a more limited menu and the absence of a working fireplace.
One of the most curious things about the college experience is that odd sense of community that occurs during finals week, when you and other students share a bond over the fact that you’re all still awake at 5 a.m. in a vain attempt to study for a final or finish a paper. Or perhaps it’s the sleep deprivation itself that builds that sense of community. Regardless, nowhere is this better experienced than in one of Northwestern’s libraries. While none of the campus libraries stay open past 3 a.m. during regular hours (and occasionally close earlier, depending on the weather), each provides a unique space in which students can suffer in silence as they toil away on assignments. For those Anglophiles who never quite gave up on their dream of attending Hogwarts, Deering Library should provide all the gothic architecture and awkward communal wooden tables a muggle could ever want. If you’re looking for architecture that was meant to look like the leaves of a book but approximates closer to a prison – and all the spinning desk-chairs you could imagine – the main library is a dream come true. If you finally found your way out of the maze that is Tech and are looking for refuge from the cold while you complete your chem homework, you’re probably looking for Mudd.
For group projects, interviews or meetings, there is nowhere quite as accessible as Norris University Center – there’s a reason they use the phrase “Meet me at Norris.” Even if you’re looking for some privacy, the first floor of Norris’ ever popular egg chairs act as an effective tool for shielding their users from the outside world. They key to navigating Norris is to avoid going immediately after classes regularly let out because the lines will be longer at all of the eateries, and the tables will be few and far between. A real Norris pro will scout out a seat before ordering a coffee and stay camped out at the same table all day, leaving behind artifacts from her wardrobe to ward off table-snatchers (not that I would know). Norris’ central location makes it a prime spot to ride out a storm or get in some reading between meetings or classes.