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Off the beaten (Red)path

Victoria Lessard studies up on Montreal’s local libraries

Oh, finals season. That tortuous time of year is almost upon us once again. The weather is getting warmer, and all your heart yearns for is to drink a beer or share a pitcher of sangria on a terrace in the sun. Yet, somehow, you find yourself sitting inside McLennan, Redpath, and every other library on campus with every other student attending McGill.

Studying at a McGill library during finals season is reminiscent of the world depicted in a nature documentary on the Discovery channel. It’s survival of the fittest – racing to get a spot near some form of natural light, so you don’t completely forget what the sun looks like, hiding much-needed caffeine or sustenance from the seemingly eagle-eyed security guards, and shooting challenging death-glares at the person who seems to think that the fifth floor is an appropriate place to rehash their night out – where they were “sooo fucking wasted” – with twelve of their closest friends sitting nearby.

For your sanity, and for my own, during this wondrous and blissful season, I trekked around Montreal in search of alternate libraries to study in, and managed to find some pretty magical spots.

The Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art’s Media Center is one of those special places. When I walked into the museum, I was directed by a smiling desk attendant to the main flight of stairs. After reaching the exhibition floor, you have to continue your upward climb to the Media Center – as I ascended, I felt as though I was discovering a secret passageway, or being given a glimpse into the inside life of the institution. This feeling only grew when I reached the study space. The Media Center is a small library, filled with shelves of art books (a tip for art history students, especially those taking contemporary art classes – if you’ve started a research paper late, and all the good books are gone from the library, you’re likely to find some good sources here – not that that’s ever happened to me), and wide, wooden desks, perfect for spreading out your study materials. The  space feels warm and friendly, and the huge skylights directly over the desks let you stare out at the sky and try to guess what new heights the temperature has reached now.

The Westmount Public Library is another magical study space. While I unwittingly walked about a million blocks to reach it from the Vendome metro station, more intrepid travellers will have the common sense to take the bus and can conveniently reach it from the McGill Ghetto. (Note to self for future reference: Google Maps distances are deceptively different from real distances.) The Westmount Public Library is the epitome of what I’ve always imagined a majestic old library to look like – there are beautiful high, arched windows, tables to study at, lit by lamps with green glass shades, and big, comfortable armchairs scattered around everywhere. For those of you who can’t study with a single decibel of sound, there is, in fact, a Reading Room. And it has a beautiful grand fireplace. You will never be able to study anywhere else. While the beauty of the historic building, commissioned in 1897 by Queen Victoria and completed in 1899, is enough of a draw, the best part of the library is all of its hidden study spots. There are armchairs and desks stashed away everywhere – including a wooden bench set into a wall, tucked away on the second floor.

The Robert-Bourassa library is also a great spot. Located in Outremont, the cheerful and quiet space makes it worth the metro ride and short walk. (Successful use of Google Maps this time.) The bright library has plenty of study spots, with wooden chairs and big, polished desks placed in all the nooks and crannies in between book shelves. There are also little armchairs nestled away, for those who would rather have a calm afternoon with a good book to take a relaxing break from the madness of term paper and exam season. There is an abundance of riotously-coloured abstract paintings on the wall, which help to create a mood-elevating atmosphere, far removed from the sometimes dreary gloom of poorly-lit libraries. The most distinctive part of this library is the small art gallery attached to it, which shows artworks on loan from a local gallery.

Finally, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) is a student’s dream. When I first arrived, I felt as though I was seeing a mirage of a study haven before me, and if I questioned it, it would all go away. Thankfully, I had not fallen down a rabbit hole, or through any looking-glass, and BAnQ was real. The main library is attached to the Berri-UQAM metro station, making it very easy to travel to (and I will definitely be utilizing this come winter semester next year), and there’s a Java U right next door for a quick coffee fix. With four levels, as well as a main floor and a basement, there are endless study spots to choose from. The building is glass, so natural light streams in, negating the need for those horrifying fluorescent lights often found in public buildings. The best floors are four and one – the fourth floor contains the music and video collection, and even holds records in a separate room. There are multitudes of sleek and comfortable armchairs to sit in, and most of the computers have massive headphones attached to them, so people can listen to music and watch videos. This makes the floor one of the quietest to study on. The first floor showcases a small exhibit among the bookshelves – right now, costumes from the Belle Époque era are on display, and they’re all made out of brown and white construction paper. Once you get past the bustling main floor, the BAnQ is a gem of a library.

So the next time you find yourself clutching your Tim Horton’s coffee cup between your knees when the security guard walks by and counting the number of times the person sitting next to you coughs in one minute, think of a magical study space you can flee to – then take a deep breath, pack up your twenty-pound backpack, and leave the McGill libraries in the dust behind you.

The MAC Media Center (185 Ste. Catherine Ouest) is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Wednesdays and Fridays from 11:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Westmount Public Library (457 Sherbrooke) is open Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Bibliothèque Henri Bourassa (41 Saint Just) is open Monday to Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (475 Maisonneuve Est) is closed on Monday, open Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.