Indiana University Bloomington

Utopian Ideas in Herman B. Wells Library

Tejasvi Matam, biochemistry

Written for COLL-C103: Word Hard, Pray Hard

Instructor: Prof. Sonia Velazquez

The Herman B. Wells library on the Indiana University campus dominates the landscape, with its modern architectural designs and its open spaces filled with trees, bushes, and tables. It seems like a perfect place to study or hang out with friends. But, inside, there are certain areas that contradict this utopian and perfectionist ideal. Some of the top floors are equivalent to prison cells. While this is the case for most floors and rooms, one room in particular, the Scholars Room, is the complete opposite. The Scholars Room, in the East Wing of the library, is the ideal room to study for the purpose that it follows utopian characteristics.

The Scholars Room is one of my favorite places to study. As soon as you enter into the room, the warm air and the smell of old books welcomes you with an inviting embrace. You also can’t help but notice the rows upon rows of organized shelves, filled with periodicals, where some date back to times before you or your parents existed. It’s nerve-wracking, yet inspiring, to imagine that some of these periodicals were there even before major inventions, such as the internet, and how they survived throughout generations. As you continue to move around the room, you notice several things, the most important being that it’s one of the brightest rooms in, probably, the entire library. The huge, expansive windows let so much light through, that the actual lights seem nonexistent. The natural light is very refreshing, especially after all of the dull artificial lights in classrooms and in the dorms. The Scholar Room is meant for quiet study, and the environment fits its purpose; there is absolute solitude and pin-drop silence. It’s so quiet, in fact, that you can hear the sounds of other students’ pencils writing in their notebooks, or the sounds of keys clicking on the keyboard. It’s great to put on some music and concentrate on your paper without being bothered by groups of boisterous college students yelling about what they will do over the weekend. Even though its meant for solitude, the desks are aligned facing the windows in groups. So while working, you can still observe the outside world and interact quietly with others. This is not the case for many lecture rooms; they are cramped, forward facing for maximum attention from both the student and professor, and with either tiny and covered windows or the lack of windows.

The Scholars Room, I would say is a utopian place. There are many varied definitions of the word utopia, but all those definitions have certain characteristics they share. The three I noticed are the 1) have freedom and independent thoughts 2) one unifying thought brings the people together, and 3) the natural world is revered and embraced. These three characteristics are at play when you come here to study and try to accomplish your goal, whether it be writing an essay or studying. When you are in this room, you have complete independency from everything. The solitude aids with this. There are no distractions, so you are left to the power of your mind. You are free to think what you want and no one can say otherwise. Another student or professor can’t ask you to incorporate their ideas. It forces you to think deeper and search for the answer instead of relying on someone else to give you the answer. This ensures that you really understand the material, which in turn gives you good analytical skills. Also, due to this independence, it allows you to have freedom on how you want to complete the task at hand. You can daydream, listen to music, observe traffic patterns or animals through the windows, or do other activities that are frowned upon in a classroom setting. The windows really bring this room one step closer to utopian ideals. The windows allow minds to wander, to look at nature and draw conclusions from it. After all, everything you do has its applications to nature and the outside world and if you are closed off, then there is very little possibility of truly understanding anything. Nature sparks learning and creativity, and it’s been proven that nature decreases cortisol levels (stress level indicator) [1]. Furthermore, this place is ideal to study because of its unity. Everyone who comes into this room has the same thought: finish the task. This common objective ensures that there are no disturbances, such as loud noises, and in turn produces a meaningful acquisition of knowledge.

Even though there are utopian places, areas marked by dystopian characteristics dominate. One place where many students agree is the classrooms. In the classrooms, it’s very apparent that there should be no creativity going on. There are tiny windows, and the classroom is lit through lights which cause tremendous amount of stress on the eyes and disrupt circadian clocks, all because the fluorescent lights are cheaper. In addition, the desks are small and cramped, all facing forward in nice neat lines. The same can be said for other floors on the library. As soon as you pass the first floor, there are no windows. It feels like a prison cell, where the sentence is not how many years you serve, but to constantly work on your studies without any questions asked. The fact that there are more dystopian places than utopian places at Indiana University, and probably schools all across the nation, indicates the “intended” purpose of education. It’s meant to churn out top notch students that will function in society and become successful (which is another word for making a lot of money), all while maximizing profits. There is, and probably never will be, any imagination or creativity present in any lecture or subject. Students are required to pay attention and absorb everything, like sponges, and reiterate them so the school can be identified as “top ranking.” And, let’s not forget to mention, the higher ranking the school, the better funding which means more money to the higher-ups, which indicates success. So, the point of these dystopian places is “success.”

In essence, my experience in the Scholars Room at the Herman B. Wells Library is my definition of a utopian place. It allows me to be closer to nature, be independent in my thoughts and ideas and lastly everyone in that room is united under the simple goal: to get work done. But, it’s not very common to find places of utopia in today’s schools. There are more dystopian ideals meant to mass produce top students for “success” of the school, and the consequences of the mass production can be detrimental to the students.


  1. Inglis, Kate. “How Nature Ignites Creativity.” The Outdoors Prescription How Nature                                                             

Ignites Creativity Comments. THNK, 29 Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

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