A Consideration of the Swat Libraries

Although Swarthmore College is home to eight distinct library collections, if you ask most students about their favorite library here, they will respond with one of three answers: McCabe, Cornell, or Underhill. Each library is related to a different discipline or set of studies, so major may somewhat influence a student’s preference. For example, the largest library, McCabe, holds all the books and materials for Humanities and Social Science courses, so as an English major I necessarily study in McCabe most frequently. Cornell is for Natural Sciences, and Underhill represents Music and Dance.

Although my love for McCabe (and dislike of Cornell) is undying, I’ll attempt to create an unbiased listing of the pros and cons of each library. Listed below, in no particular order, is my definitive appraisal of the three main libraries of Swarthmore College.



If you’re looking for the classic old-brick library with spiral staircases and unending rows of books, McCabe is the place for you. Although affectionately nicknamed “McCage” due to its reputation as a safe haven for frantic thesis writers and 1 a.m. homework finishers, this is the library for when you have serious work to finish. The floors decrease in noise level as you go up, so the third floor is perfectly silent and provides solitary desks and work spaces. There are also conversation rooms, video viewing rooms, and a slightly more chatty level on the first floor with comfy chairs and research/ITS assistants at your service.

Pros: Quiet, good for productivity, lots of resources, gives out snacks at 10 p.m.

Cons: Not good for loud group work, small windows




As a library dedicated solely to Music and Dance, Underhill is smaller and more intimate than McCabe or Cornell. One of its draws is the large glass window overlooking the Crum Woods, conveniently situated in front of comfy reading chairs complete with benches for laptops or propping up feet. Underhill also provides several small tables for individual work, as well as a larger table and group study room. Although usually less populated than McCabe or Cornell, students who frequent Underhill tend to be fiercely loyal to their chosen study spot.

Pros: beautiful view, more intimate, comfy chairs

Cons: fewer desks/chairs, less space




Cornell finds its large fan base among the many Natural Science majors at Swarthmore, who flock to the library for textbooks and peer support on problem sets. Cornell is the most social of the three libraries, and the booth-style seating on the first floor could easily be mistaken for a diner. The first floor is dedicated to group studying and is filled with large tables, charging stations, and rolling chairs. The basement level is also often loud and social, and boasts comfy chairs and a view of the Crum Woods. The upper levels are much quieter and more focused.

Pros: social study spaces, proximity to the snack bar

Cons: often loud, few individual desks


Everyone finds their perfect place in one of the three vastly different libraries, whether it be a study spot, social hangout space, or napping location. Although I have my strong preferences, it’s nice to know that there’s a library for every person, every discipline, and every situation, so if I ever become a STEM major or the type of person that can study in a noisy atmosphere (both unlikely) I’ll know where to go.

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