Many a friend is formed at Brandeis over a shared dislike for the numerous staircases on
Brandeis University campus; however, one staircase is not like the rest of its brethren. Enter the
Brandeis Library, take a right, and you will find yourself face-to-face with one of my favorite
spots on campus: the Brandeis Library staircase.
Every time I go up the staircase, every time I go down the staircase, I am reminded of all
of the other Brandeis students before me. The staircase’s stairs are not level; they all have
rounded grooves in them, each one unique. Every single Brandeis student and professor and
passerby has contributed to the history of the staircase—a history displayed clearly to anyone
looking down. Even campus tours walk through the hallowed halls of the library and up the staircase; melding the staircase is a community effort. It is an interactive historical exhibit, one where everyone is encouraged to participate and press their soles against the semi-malleable staircase, leaving an imprint as if to say, “I was here; a played a role at this university; I have spent innumerable hours here dedicated to studying and learning; I existed here.”
Much like the cave paintings left behind thousands of years ago, there is something so touchingly human about the desire to be remembered. The Brandeis Library staircase, with all of its human touches, is modern history. When I have had to walk up it in the early hours of the morning, slowly adjusting from the outside temperature to the warmness within, seeing the staircase always makes me pause. The staircase is a collaborative project—we all participate in it. I love that we all participate in its change and its future.
There are many parts of campus that I will alter throughout my time here, albeit temporarily. I will decorate the walls of my dorm rooms, only to take everything down at the end of each semester. I will leave footprints in the grass that will disappear with time. I will check out library books and return them. But there is no method to impact the campus in a more nuanced way than walking up that staircase. The library staircase does not have my name on it—it does not have anyone’s name on it. We all contribute, and continue to contribute to it and that is what makes it a fascinating place of anthropological importance to Brandeis University’s campus.
There is also something to be said about unintentional history. I doubt any Brandeis student sets out for the day intentionally planning to walk up the library staircase, and yet, the staircase is walked upon anyways. The staircase calls into question the daily actions we take that impact our lives unintentionally, on such a small scale that we may never even notice, but that impact us nonetheless. The staircase is a physical reminder of those non-physical actions—when you thank the dining hall employee or hold the door open for someone or answer someone’s question in a group chat. All of those actions have an impact, though they are not as visible as the indentations on the staircase.
Though the staircase is seemingly hidden—tucked away—its grooves indicate otherwise. It is not the stairs in Farber that I noticed, nor the stairs leading down to the lower levels of the library. It was the staircase that leads to the Writing Center, to the library classrooms, that I noticed. Overall, the Brandeis Library is a fantastic place to hang out and discover something new. Walking up and down the darkened rows of bookshelves feels special. My hometown library simply does not have the size or scale to enact the vibes of Brandeis Library. (I also love the book drop outside, opening it and putting in all of my books is always a fun experience.) Inside of the library, at its heart, is where history is made. The library is not only a place to learn history, it is a place where it is created. I strongly encourage you to walk up the stairs yourself and pay close attention to the unevenness of the staircase—do so quietly, of course, it is a library after all.
At the end of the day, will I still make fun of the Rabb stairs? Of course—I do not think I could call myself a Brandeis student if I didn’t. But I would be lying if the Brandeis Library staircase didn’t have a special place in my heart.
Illustration by Jennifer Podhorzer