From Hell to Heaven: The Levels of Mossey Library

Written by Sophia Klomparens

I open the doors to Mossey Library and step into the welcome warmth, breathing in the old familiar smell of brick and freshly printed pages. Looking for an open study spot, I wave at my favorite employees behind the information desk. I settle on a desk over by the reference stacks and pull out my notebook to start writing, but I get distracted almost immediately by a friend stopping by my desk to ask about the homework for tomorrow. We talk for a few minutes, then he wanders away and I sit back, listening to the sounds of Heaven.

Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the hero goes on a journey through these three places to get his life back on track—but years ago, a Hillsdale student whose name has been long forgotten decided to borrow these names for the three floors of Mossey Library: the top floor is Heaven, the middle floor Purgatory, and the bottom floor Hell. Learning these nicknames is a rite of passage for every Hillsdale student. I’ll never forget glancing over in confusion the first time I heard someone say, “I’m going to Purgatory to study.” But by the end of my freshman year, the nicknames had become second nature—and so had the differences between the three floors.

I set down my notebook for a moment and listen to the cheerful buzz of relaxed productivity. Rows of students print assignments at the last minute, congregating over the printers to swap stories before class. Chattering conversation fills the air, punctuated every now and then by a burst of laughter from the back of Heaven. I push my chair back and head toward the laughter to see what’s happening. I wander over to the huge windows and look out over the snow-covered campus, enjoying the light as it streams in. More laughter rings out to my right, and I turn into the “Skittles room,” a whimsical space named for its cherry red armchairs and lime green carpet. I spot the source of laughter, a study group having a little too much fun discussing the shortcomings of Descartes, and pause to listen. As I leave the Skittles room, I smile as memories of people and conversations drift through my mind, attached to the physical objects around me—this table, that corner, these couches.

When I get back to my desk, I realize there’s a book I still need for my English paper. I look up the call number and head down the stairs into Purgatory. When I open the door, a studious hush greets me. This floor feels more scholarly than Heaven, but maybe that’s because it’s covered in rows and rows of hefty bookshelves, with desks and tables slipped into the empty spaces. I start to walk the stacks, looking for the book I need. As I search through what feels like miles of books, I recognize a few shelves as old friends, raided late at night for last-minute research. I smile and nod at the Homer shelves, pay a visit to the Virgil section, and keep moving toward my destination. Interesting titles keep catching my eye and distracting me, so I move slowly, but that’s okay—time seems to cost less down here. I circle around the back, passing students surrounded by piles of books, hard at work on their research papers. A couple students eye me suspiciously, worried that I’ll steal their table space. The air feels stressed, accentuated by the light sound of pages turning and keyboards clacking. I wave at another friend, but don’t say anything—people down here usually don’t want to be interrupted. As I search through the shelves again, I realize that the section I need isn’t here. It’s actually down in Hell.

My stomach tightens with a twinge of irrational fear as I descend the stairs. I’ve only been down here five times before: the first four to raid the shelves on Herman Melville for a Great Books paper, and the fifth time to take a nap between the shelves. Hell is much smaller—and colder—than the first two floors, filled with sliding shelves and empty desks surrounded by blinding white walls. It’s absolutely silent here, so quiet that I can hear the sound of someone’s pen scratching on paper from the far side of the room. I shiver as I press the button to open the sliding shelves, step in, and search for the book I need. As I head back toward the stairs, I pass a couple of students I’ve never seen before. These are the students who emerge blinking into the daylight every seven or eight hours to grab some coffee from A.J.’s Café. Then they descend back into the depths of the library, never to be seen again.

I climb the stairs, following in Dante’s footsteps. Safely back in Heaven, I settle into my desk, opening my notebook and flipping to the right page in my book. I start writing, comforted by the rush of students coming and going around me. Whether you love studying in the isolation of Hell, the quiet of Purgatory, or the energy of Heaven, there’s a place for everyone at the library. Mine just happens to be in Heaven.

Sophia Klomparens, ’21, studies English and Latin. Most days you’ll find her in AJ’s drinking coffee, obsessing over the Aeneid, and listening to unreasonably angsty music. If you ever want to have a passionate discussion about Virgil, let her know—she’s running out of people who will listen.

Published in March 2020