Every chair in Hillman Library is filled, every table strewn with textbooks and notes, every face marked with the undeniable signs of exhaustion and stress.
Students are curled up in their PJs, clutching caramel macchiatos and murmuring math formulas and historical dates. Many have stayed for a full 24 hours, since Hillman keeps its doors open around the clock for finals week. Some may have laid out sleeping bags or even mattresses on the floor in preparation for a long night with a semester’s worth of course material.
Some may have even pitched tents.
As students flood the floors of the library, the staff at Hillman help them find books, keep caffeinated and keep the peace by waking up any snoring studiers. Like managers of a factory, the staff works to help students manage stress but say that despite the late and busy hours, finals week is one of the most fun and memorable parts of the semester.
Caroline Brown, the information area manager for the Hillman Library, discovered a tent in the Thornburgh reading room eight years ago around finals. A sign taped to the outside of the tent, large enough for three or four people, read “respect the tent.”
“It was empty, so we took it down,” Brown said. “A couple hours later, a student showed up asking where his tent was, and we had to tell him he couldn’t have it in the library.”
During finals week, study spots around campus are packed with students cramming for their last exams. Hillman Library is notoriously busy at all hours of the day and night, filled with students drinking large amounts of caffeine, surviving on little to no sleep or possibly setting up a campsite with everything minus a fire.
Brown, who has worked at Hillman for 16 years, describes finals week as “one of the most fun times” in her job.
“People can get stressed, but they also come in with good news about grades and reports when they come to drop stuff off or pay fines,” Brown said. “Plus, everybody’s looking forward to going home for winter break.”
Brown once found a mattress (sans owner) in a reserved room. She also said sleeping bags and the like are not uncommon after the start of finals.
“Right after Thanksgiving, we fill up every morning, and it stays that way until late at night,” Brown said. “A lot of kids study in their pajamas.”
If confronted with a sleeping student, Brown said she and her colleagues just let him or her be unless they hear snoring.
“Other students find it irritating, especially if it’s on one of the quieter upper levels, so we just tap them on the shoulder and let them know,” Brown said.
Like Brown, Waide Matthews — the maintenance manager for the stacks at Hillman — came across a tent in one of the reading rooms on the library’s third floor.
“It had a note on it saying anybody who wanted to sleep in it could,” Matthews said.
During his 21 years working at the library, Matthews has seen students sleeping under tables, putting up blankets as dividers and camping out in group study rooms. Yet, the craziest thing about finals to Matthews is the aroma that hangs in the air right before the impending week of doom.
“Kids don’t go to their dorms to shower, and combine that with the pizza and Chipotle and whatever else they’re eating, and you get something funky,” Matthews said.
Elizabeth Harrison, a shift leader at the Cup and Chaucer Cafe, said the flow of students increases during finals week. Instead of dashing names on cups, she just yells out the type of coffee.
“We usually get a five to seven minute break between customer rushes throughout the semester,” Harrison said. “We usually don’t get any more than a minute during finals.”
Harrison, who has been working in Hillman for 13 years, said up to 3,000 people come and get coffee assembly line-style during finals, shuffling into line, placing their order and then trudging back to their workload, espresso in hand.
“We serve up to 250 to 270 people an hour, easy,” Harrison said.
William Owens, who has been unloading trucks with items for Einstein Bros. Bagels and the coffee carts for three years, said everything in Hillman runs out fast around finals.
And as a server at the complimentary coffee carts during the 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift, Owens said he is astounded by the large number of students who are still camping out in Hillman, desperate for a dose of caffeine to keep their eyes open while they pour over old midterms and readings dating back to September.
“Chips, tea, cookies, coffee, milk –– it all sells out,” Owens said. “There’s hundreds of [students], packed into the rooms like sardines at 10 p.m. … These people are busy, and they don’t play around when it comes to coffee.”
While working during finals week, Owens said he’s seen students padding across the floors in pajamas and coming up with bizarre methods of keeping themselves energized.
“I saw a dance party going on in one of the reserved rooms late at night,” he said. “Don’t know how long that was allowed to keep on.”
As the hours wound down to Monday and morale dropped to the week’s lowest point, Brown had one plea for students who have decided to make Hillman a temporary home: remember that supplies are limited.
“Please,” she said. “We’re completely out of giveaways at this point, and our staplers keep disappearing.”