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Rolvaag prioritizes adventure over architecture

Rolvaag Justin

If someone were to ask me where my favorite place to study is, I would declare Rolvaag Memorial Library with conviction. The reasons may be somewhat obvious to many St. Olaf students. The near silence of the first and fifth floors minimizes distractions, the third floor is perfect for working and socializing, and the second and fourth floors act as a middle ground between the two options. The chairs are comfy and plentiful, and the views from the fifth floor are gorgeous, especially now when the rolling hills of trees break out into their fall colors. 

However, Rolvaag has its critics, I was briefly one of them. The layout can be confusing, and people get lost. There are probably some poor juniors and seniors still trapped, wandering the halls of the library ever since they entered the building as fall semester first-years. It feels maze-like at first, but you do learn the layout. The library staff and maps are your friends.

My first time in Rolvaag was when I was a new St. Olaf student, fresh out of high school, learning how to navigate the many complexities of a college campus. This was also deep in the era of strict social-distancing requirements, meaning that the hallways and stairwells were designated as “one-way” zones, so it was easy to get stuck at the bottom of a “down-only” stairway if you were like me and didn’t know where you were going. Instead of taking what should have been a five-minute walk to the reference room ended up being a fifteen-minute trip through the whole building, mostly due to a series of wrong turns. By the time I made it out, before I could even let out a sigh of relief, I realized I no longer had my jacket with me which meant it was somewhere back along the corridors, rows of bookshelves, and the one-way stairways. Thankfully, I was able to retrace my steps to retrieve my jacket, and it was a lot easier to navigate the second time through. 

Ultimately, after all that effort, I realized this adventure was actually kind of fun. It is an experience the first few times through, but once you learn the layout, and you will, Rolvaag will provide a rewarding study environment. 

Of course, there is something to be said for a building designed to avoid steep learning curves. When I say I would defend Rolvaag Memorial Library “with conviction” what I really mean is I can appreciate my favorite St Olaf building while still being able to criticize it, which is really how we should approach the things we love. 

Jack Butler is from Duluth, Minn.

His major is sociology/anthropology.