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Squandered potential: a review of the new Hubbard Reading Room

February 9, 2024

This piece represents the opinion of the author .

I spend a lot of time considering where to study. Sometimes more than I spend actually studying. The first few weeks I was here I wandered campus at night, delighting in the discovery of all the unique rooms at Bowdoin. Every study spot has a different character. Smith’s radical openness contrasts with the almost claustrophobic space of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library stacks. In Hatch Library you can study science, while from the Visual Arts Center fishbowl you can study people as people study you. Over time, each different location has built up a loyal clientele. Every spot on campus has a history, the new Hubbard reading room’s is longer than many others. So why doesn’t it feel like it?

When I heard that the old Arctic Museum was being converted into a reading room I was overjoyed. I love Hubbard, its majesty and its quirks, its inspiring façade and bizarre bathrooms. I entered the new reading room ready to love it too. Initially I did. Then I sat in one of the chairs. It was like sitting on a rock. Whereas the chairs in the Shannon Room are luxuriously plush (I’ve fallen asleep while studying there at least a dozen times), these chairs were rigid, inflexible. I know it must have been possible for Bowdoin to purchase comfortable chairs, so why didn’t they?

Perhaps I’m falling into the classic trap of high school English teachers in assigning intention where there was none, but I think that chair represented a larger attitude in the room as a whole. The new reading room doesn’t embrace the history of Hubbard; it treats it as a backdrop. Outside of the ceiling and the walls, nothing in the room could have conceivably come from Hubbard’s origination in 1903. The couches feel like they were deflated and then hauled over from Smith Union, the desks belong in Hatch, and the lights seem as though they were stolen from my dorm in West Hall and hung from the ceiling like the cages of St. Lambert’s Church in Münster. They do their job. The room is well-lit, sterile, its lack of character laid bare.

At this point I’ve probably given the impression that I hate the new reading room. I don’t. It’s fine. That’s all it is. My regret comes from the fact that it could have been so much more. The room could have been beautiful, but it’s not. The chairs could have been comfortable, but they’re not. I go to the Shannon Room when I seek inspiration. I stay on the first floor when I need to mechanically work through an econ problem set.

Bowdoin is at its best when it’s bold–when we, as a school, take chances; when we sit next to someone we don’t know in the dining hall and talk to them; when we perform plays and music that shock people; when we build a sixteen-story building in suburban Maine just because we can. We don’t admire Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain for his studiousness; we admire him because he was bold. The new Hubbard reading room is not bold, it’s effective. It gets the job done. I wrote this review here, and I will continue to study here. I will not be inspired.

Sam Lieman is a member of the Class of 2027. 


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  1. Elliott Ewell '27 says:

    The new Hubbard study room is without character or shape. It is a lazy repurposing of a space deserving of much more.

    Thought admittedly expensive, Bowdoin should consider refinishing the walls with wood trim like in Shannon or the mirror room at the other end of the 2nd floor.

    They should also look at quartering space in the new study space to add structure to the current void. Bookshelves would do.

    • Mason Daugherty '25 says:

      Strongly agree. Introducing these changes in addition to warm, ambient lighting (more lamps!) would do wonders in transforming the space into one that welcomed students in as opposed to one that merely gets the job done.

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