How does one end up in the Library past midnight? Maybe you had a paper to submit tomorrow. You thought you had everything under control. You were halfway there but you made the mistake of taking a break and committing to an episode of the Great British Bake Off. Six hours later you get a text from your coursemate asking you what reference you used for a thing you haven’t even heard of. You look at the time and have a mini heart episode. You get up from the sofa, the sudden movement giving you head-rush, take a deep breath and make the only decision that makes sense at 1 a.m. on a Thursday. You go to the Central Library.
We’ve all been there. Some of us more than once. Frankly if you haven’t pulled an all-nighter in the library do you even go here? Still the Central Library gets transformed into a magical realm, littered with candy wrappers, populated by orphan lecture notes. If you keep still you might get approached by a sleep-deprived undergrad, desperately looking for a functioning toilet. Who are these study-machines who power the Central Library’s afterhours sessions? Are they victims of circumstance? Are they bad time-managers? Are they the overly keen, the serial night owls, the best people you will ever know? How do they do it and what wisdom do they have to impart on us? We decided to find out and reveal their secrets.
We arrived at our destination just after twelve. As any seasoned Imperial student will know, at eleven all College study spaces shut and students are thrown out of their departments, leaving the desperate with only one option: the Central Library. By twelve, everyone has settled in, got their snacks spread out, had a little cry maybe and is probably three chapters deep in revision. Clearly that’s the best time to be interrupted.
We started with the ground floor and made our way up. We’d start with the group study areas and build our confidence up until we reached the silent study floors. The first guy we bumped into was Andy Whitfield, a Metals and Energy Finance Masters student who was surprisingly chatty.
Why are you not home working? I concentrate better here. It forces me to work – there are too many distractions at home.
What is your relationship with the library? I hate it, it’s a terrible place! No, it’s a good facility really. I’d just rather be somewhere else: asleep right now.
What is the longest amount of time you have ever spent in the library? Probably twelve hours.
How do you get through it? Music, or I go out on my bike and ride around London for half an hour and wake up a bit.
What about snacks and drinks? Mini cheddars and I don’t really drink coffee although I did bring pro plus with me today but I haven’t had it yet.
What sort of person do you think you have to be to come here for an all-nighter? There are some who just come here for fun and enjoy it. One guy on my course just enjoys working in the middle of the night. He would rather sleep all day and work through the night. That’s not me – this is just a last minute thing.
Let’s talk hygiene. Tell us about the toilers. They’re fucking horrible in Imperial. I don’t know what’s wrong with this place. I’ve spent four years in central Africa working on a mine and the toilets there were better than the ones at Imperial.
How would you describe yourself? Laid-back. Too laid-back apparently as I left this all to the last minute.
We thanked Andy and wished him good luck. We said we’d come back to check up on him. We lied.
Next we cornered someone on his way back to his group. He didn’t see us coming. Actually he did and was really cool about sparing five minutes to talk to us. But we managed to mess up the recording so we’ll never know what this beautiful stranger had to say.
We then decided we should probably move on and harass people on other floors. But not before intruding the privacy of one of those weird little study cubes and force Shafakat Bashir, a Chemical Engineering Masters student to talk to us.
Is this your first all-nighter? It’s not my first no. I can’t revise during the day as there is no space in the library. So I sleep during the day and revise all night.
How many all-nighters have you done? Loads. Even when I’m not revising I’d come in the morning at about five o’clock just before lectures and do six hours – do my lectures and then go home. During the day there is too much distraction and the library is quite busy as well. It’s always hot. At this time you can revise at your own pace and it’s quiet – and it all goes in.
Is there any sort of routine you have when you revise? If I understand something and I’m just practicing something then I listen to music. If I don’t then it’s a distraction.
You’ve got a very large bottle of water there but do you ever have any other drinks or snacks? No, if I have sugar I feel sleepy and go home. So, I stay away from sugar and foods. I just have the big bottle of water. It goes, it lasts me the night. I don’t do any refills – I can’t drink London water, I’m from Leeds.
How much do you spend on bottled water a year? This bottle is 50 pence and I have two bottles a day probably. About £7 a week. When you think about it it’s quite a bit.
What about toilets and hygiene? They have their ups and downs. Lately, the toilets in the library have been out of order. There’s always been stuff clogged in the toilets and shit around the bowl – it's kind of off-putting.
What kind of person do you think you need to be to do all-nighters in the library? What kind of person are you? Because I’ve moved here from a different part of the country and don’t really know anyone where I live the only social aspect of my life is at university. If you’ve got a very social and active life, it’s a bit more difficult to do all-nighters. If you’re living secluded away from student areas it’s a bit more dull – you’re a lot more likely to study, especially at this time. If it's a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night and you’re a student and you wanna get wrecked you’re not going to come to the library.
After wasting a good fifteen minutes of Shafakat’s time we reluctantly decided to let him go back to his big old bottle of water and make our way to the second floor to tackle a silent study area.
We tried talking to a good six or seven students on the second floor. Luckily Fabiola Mann, a first year medic, took pity on us before we lost all our remaining morale.
How many all-nighters have you done? Not that many, I try to avoid them when I can.
Is this an all-nighter? No, I’m probably going to go to bed in the next hour hopefully.
How do you feel about the library? It’s pretty good. It’s a nice environment. I get a lot more done here than I do in my room. It’s good to have a constant place to work in – it kinda gets you in the zone.
What's the longest time you’ve ever spent in the library? Probably about nine hours during the day.
So you’re not really a night owl then? Well I am but I’m trying to sleep earlier. That’s not going well because exams are coming up.
What’s the weirdest thing you have ever seen in the library? There was fire drill at 1AM. It was weird, we were just chilling outside. There were 50-60 people and that was during the Easter break.
What about snacks? The vending machine downstairs has my favourite chocolate bar – Snack bar. It tastes a bit like chocolate fingers.
...and drinks? Mochas or diet cokes or waters if I’m planning on sleeping.
How would you describe the sort of person who spends a lot of time in the library at night? Cramming.
So that’s what you’re doing? No, I’ve got a month and a bit before my exam but I feel behind. I just kind of wanted to get ahead.
What’s your relationship with stress? Highs and lows. Generally at a high I’ll come to the library.
Anything else you would like to add? I just really like this space.
As we bid Fabiola farewell, Cale pointed out people come here because they want no distractions and that we’re hella distracting.
So we decided to cut our losses and move on. As we arrived to the third floor, another silent study floor, we were overtaken by dread as we thought about all the students we’d once again have to bother to be done with this article. Then a structural engineer popped out of the loo and we snatched him and asked him to step out for a sec to answer some questions. After spelling his name for us Angel Ruizdelarbol told us all about his relationship with the library.
Are you gonna spend the whole night here? No one more hour.
How often do you do that? Every day. I study here and in Skempton. I prefer working at nights especially now that I no longer have lectures.
What’s the longest time you’ve spent in the library? In one sitting between Skempton and here – today for example I had an exam – I’ll be in the library from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. So twelve hours.
That’s a lot of hours. What do you do for snacks a****nd drinks? I bring stuff from home normally. Or go to Wasabi.
And what about the loos? It’s not fine. Normally… Not fine.
What’s the most horrifying thing you’ve seen in the toilets? Really? You want to know that? Blood… piss [He said jokingly. We presume.]
What kind of person are you? What kind of person do you need to be to study so much at the library? I’m a happy person, a stressful person.
How do you deal with stress? I study. It’s better than going home and watching TV series. I prefer to study in the library. At home I can’t concentrate, I just watch Netflix or something.
Angel laughed throughout our chat. It was unclear whether he was truly finding the interview entertaining, whether he was using laughter to hide the pain that usually comes with spending twelve hours straight in the library, or whether he was about to flip out and do a double murder on us. So we let him go and went up a level where we met a chemeng student that preferred to stay anonymous.
Are you spending the whole night here? I think so. This is the second or third time I’m doing an all-nighter.
How do you find it? I think it’s quite peaceful here at night. I love it when there’s not a lot of people around. It would be great if there were more beds, I mean couches, you know places to nap.
Protip: check out the ground floor computer room. Yeah I’m thinking of going there later tonight.
How many hours have you spent here straight? Probably twelve hours plus. I can’t really remember but definitely at least twelve hours.
Why are you not home working? I used to stay home to study but recently I found a study buddy so I come here to study with him and I think it’s a great place to come for a meet up.
You have any snacks you enjoy during your sessions? Ah, a Snickers bar? I don’t know. A Kinder Bueno bar. Once. I don’t usually have any snacks or coffee, but I do drink a lot of water.
Let’s talk hygiene and toilets. I think the situation could be improved. Not much else to say. I don’t mind using them, I can generally tolerate it.
What kind of person are you? How do you deal with stress? I generally don’t mix with people much, but recently I found a close friend. Late at night you’ll probably find hardcore studying people here. During the day I usually go to sleep or to lectures and tutorials. If I have to. As for stress, I was really stressed till I found a buddy.
Anything else you’d like to add? I haven’t seen a mouse in the library but I hope to see one soon.
On that note we thought it might be time to head off. So we finally made our way to the fifth floor where we were met with super keen biology newbie and all-nighter expert Gunay Arcan.
Have you done this before? Yes many times. I have a tutorial for tomorrow. Usually I’ll leave the tutorial sheet till the last minute and I’ll have to stay up all night. I do this about three times a week [laughs awkwardly]. I think I have insomnia.
What’s the longest time you’ve spent at the library? Probably from eight in the evening till eight at night. Twelve hours.
What’s your routine? I don’t bring food with me but I drink a lot of water and usually take breaks to go the toilet. But I don’t have anything to eat usually.
So that’s not yours? [pointing at some sort of wrapper tucked under a computer] Yeah I ate that [laughs].
Why are on the fifth floor? It’s so hot here. I mean you’re basically in your underwear. Is it? Well when I got here it was around 6 p.m. so it wasn’t that cold. I always choose the fifth floor ‘cos the least people come here so it’s not very busy.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen in the library? Mice, there’s a lot of mice. I have videos of them. They’re everywhere.
Talks to us about the toilets and how you deal with them. They're not good. They smell bad. I’ve just been and they are not clean. It doesn’t bother me too much because I have to study here. I can’t concentrate in my room so I have to stand it.
The fifth floor has a reputation for boning. Have you ever seen anyone get it on here? I’ve never seen anything. I see girls sitting on the laps of boys sometimes kissing but nothing more. Sometimes the guard making rounds spots them and asks them to stop. He’ll say “the Library is a public space.”
What kind of person are you? I’m a night owl and I do stress a lot. I always leave the work till the very last day and I don’t learn from my mistakes. This is why I’m here right now. I don’t revise properly every day, I leave it till the last minute.
How’s that working out for you? It’s not working out. I managed to survive my first exams but it’s not going to work now I think. My next exam is in late June but I’ll leave it till mid June before I start revising.
So you’ve already predicted your failure? [laughs]
Feeling a lot more care-free after our conversation with Gunay we started our decent back down to the Ground Floor. We were about to leave when we decided to talk to one last person before calling it a night. Mobolaji Adekanmbi who was on duty at the main desk. We talked for quite a while but we’ve boiled our conversation down to two key questions:
Tell us about your relationship with food and drink. Oh… We encourage students to eat food at the cafe or leave it outside, but some will try and sneak it inside. Students complain about food smells and we have to tell students that cooked food isn’t allowed in the library. Students will eat and keep it under the table. When you go around you’ll see it but you don’t’ know who’s it is. Some students will sneak in pizza. Some people come with electric water boilers [kettles] to make coffee. But obviously that’s not allowed in the library.
Have you ever caught people making out or boning in the library? At night we never experience that. Apart from one time, there were some students in the ladies toilets and that got reported. The person [who reported it] heard the voice of a few people, girls and boys in the toilets but he didn’t see them do anything, he didn’t establish the fact. We spoke to the student and I think he said she celebrated her birthday and was trying to give her boyfriend a special treat. You have a house, you should have gone to the house instead of the toilets!