Friday Fly: Hillman ground floor

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Friday Fly: Hillman ground floor

(Illustration by Abby Katz | Staff Illustrator)

(Illustration by Abby Katz | Staff Illustrator)

(Illustration by Abby Katz | Staff Illustrator)

(Illustration by Abby Katz | Staff Illustrator)

By Maggie Koontz | Columnist

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“Friday Fly” is a biweekly column dedicated to a fly on the wall’s perspective on campus spots and daily life here at Pitt. This is the first installment.

Midterms have begun at the University of Pittsburgh’s campus in Oakland and Hillman Library, a focal study point for students, is busy for a Wednesday night.

Hillman is a popular hangout for both studious and social types on a late October evening. On the ground floor of the library, people are scattered throughout the cavernous room, tucked into nooks and corners or clustered at tables in the center of the room. The floor is alive with chattering, filled with people sitting in front of glowing laptop screens and colossal textbooks.

The floors above are quieter, with noise decreasing as you go up until you reach absolute silence. I prefer the higher floors unless I’m working on a group project with other students. Sometimes the chatter is inspiring, but for me, homework typically requires absolute silence.

Of course, the ground floor isn’t necessarily loud. Rather, it is a consistent hum — the Hillman Hum, if you will. It is a vibration you can feel in the air as soon as you step through the doors. No distinct voices emerge except for the students near me. Discussions about homework or weekend plans fade into the background as the Hillman Hum takes control.

The overhead fluorescent lights are bright and hurt your eyes if you look at them for too long. They form long, parallel lines across the ceiling, stretching out until you can’t see where they end. Rectangular wooden tables are spread out on the ground floor, but they never seem to be enough. Some are occupied by one person and some are taken up by huge groups of friends or classmates.

Simple wooden chairs that are as uncomfortable as they look sit next to the tables. No one wants to stay there for longer than necessary. A person could also get settled in the stuffed chairs, set up in circles either along the walls or in the center of the room, with a round table smack dab in the middle.

Lone students scan the sea of studiers, looking for an open seat and walking in circles to find a free chair. A student stares at their cell phone looking confused, thumbs poised over the screen, likely texting a friend to locate them. Groups hopefully seek out one of the many large rectangular tables, but they are sorely mistaken if they think they’ll be able to find one, especially near a coveted outlet. Instead they are relegated to a circle of overstuffed leather chairs with a low round table at the center.

There is a scent of coffee — and desperation — in the air. Cup and Chaucer, one of the University coffee carts, is located on the ground floor. The smell of coffee wafts throughout the floor, masking the desperation as students consume caffeine and collaborate on homework. Frantic duos confront scary STEM courses while groups circle up, planning a presentation or working on another assignment.

A group of five sits diagonal to me, utterly silent, each member staring at screens. Various drinks are on the table, including coffee for those that need their caffeine even in the evening. Laptops sit open on the wooden table and some students have phones in their hands. Only one of the group has a book out in front of her. She is leaning over it, intently taking in the text. She turns the page, starts reading and then flips back to the previous page. For all the benefits of technology, there’s nothing like having a book under your fingertips.

Toward the center of the room, a girl with long brown hair is settled into one of the many chairs. She seems distracted, eager to focus on anything except her work. I don’t blame her. Midterms are rough. The girl picks up her phone, types something, and then puts it down. Before she begins working again, her phone buzzes and she checks it again. Right before she sets it on the table, the girl spots someone she knows a couple of feet away. She yells a greeting and the person yells back. They have a quick chat before separating. The girl returns to her phone instead of the work she should be doing.

Across the room, a girl with glasses stands in front of one of the many vertical, moving whiteboards. She pauses, dry erase marker in hand, before scribbling an equation on the board. A girl in a light wash denim jacket joins her. Glasses Girl brings her hand up to her face, then turns to say something to Denim Jacket. Denim Jacket takes the marker from Glasses Girl and erases some of the equation. She fills in the blank spaces. The two girls turn to each other and exclaim something happily, hands in the air.

My favorite type of person is the type that sits completely alone, either at a table or in one of the comfy chairs. I find it intriguing how they choose to be in a room full of people, yet they sit in solitude. They sit there, typing away on their laptops or reading, but almost all of them have earbuds stuck in their ears or headphones cupped around their ears to drown out the chatter. They immerse themselves in a protective, productive bubble, much like myself while writing this.

While midterms are drawing to a close for some inhabitants of the library, others are just beginning to weather the wave of exams and papers due. But sitting on the ground floor, I can’t help but feel that everyone here is taking part in the struggle together, as one. Midterms might create chaos on the ground floor as of now, but students scattered among the stacks seem to project a single sentiment — we’ve got each other’s backs.

At least until finals in December, that is. After that, there’s no telling what the stress will do.

Maggie primarily writes creative nonfiction and about student life for The Pitt News. Write to her at

The Pitt News is looking for students interested in creative writing, including creative nonfiction, poetry and short stories to write for the Opinions section. If interested, please contact to apply.

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