Most Columbian undergrads only live in the city for the nine cooler months out of the year. Those who have remained for the summer observe a city-wide, metaphysical transformation. Brief experience with the truly oppressive combination of ~100 degree weather and giant concrete/metal heatsinks forces a renegotiation of one’s relationship with basic infrastructure. “Urban jungle” takes on a new meaning once your glasses fog while descending into a sweltering subway stop. Gold Bond becomes the haute scent.

Beating the heat usually involves several strategies familiar to the average college student: discarding all but essential clothing, redefining “essential clothing,” crashing with the friend who is lucky enough to have a/c, and, predictably, lots and lots of beer. Ben Ratliff, CC ’80-something, suggests something that is, again, familiar; yet intuitively radical: going to Butler. In fact, Ratliff waxes poetic about the formal intimacy and intellectual serendipity of the experience to such an extent that he almost induces a pang of studious regret. Almost.

The heat comes quickly in the summer. By early June, working at home with no air-conditioning, I have no concentration. Everything feels close and impolite and loud.

So I go to Butler Library, on the southern end of Columbia’s campus in Morningside Heights. What began as a diversion has become a self-preserving summer thing: not just Butler, but the Butler stacks, the stillness capital of my imagination.

The Butler stacks are in a different sensory category, starting from the threshold: If you’re tall, you bow your head as you pass through the low door frame. They form an enclosed rectangular prism at the center of Butler — no windows, a bit cooler than the rest of the building. Two or three levels of the inner stacks can correspond to one floor of the outer library. All this reinforces the feeling that the stacks are something special: a separate province or a vital inner organ.

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