A Room with a Charm

Jan. 5, 2010, 12:02 a.m.

The Bender Room mimics a living room with its bright lighting, plush couches and coffee tables

Circa 5 p.m., about twenty students dot the room, scattered about one-person cubicles, large circular tables and armchair-surrounded coffee tables. Silence fills the space, interrupted by the occasional cough, creaking chairs and the constant patter of fingers typing. The bells of Hoover Tower and the voices of children playing outside are faintly audible.

Accessible only by an old, slow moving elevator and a hidden staircase, the Bing Wing’s Albert M. Bender Room–more commonly referred to simply as the Bender Room–is Green Library’s tucked away, fifth floor treasure.

Upon exiting the elevator, one is greeted by an austere hallway and a nondescript plaque that reads “500: Albert M. Bender Room.” Indistinguishable outside from room 510 just across the hall, the Bender Room is easily bypassed by an unknowing visitor.

Claire Woodard ’12, a self-proclaimed Green Library and Bender Room enthusiast, still recalls her first exposure to what has become one of her favorite paper-writing getaways.

“I was on a library tour during New Student Orientation, and our tour guide took us to the Bender Room,” she recounted. “She prefaced this part of the tour by saying, ‘This is one of the lesser known study spots in the library. It’s a magnificent room.’ She kind of played it off like it was a secret.”

“It was love at first sight,” Woodard recalled. “It just seemed like such a homey place. The couches are lovely, the view is amazing and I love the variety of books! Sometimes when I’m studying there I take a break and go browse the shelves.”

One step through its heavy wooden door and it is evident that the Bender Room is a far cry from Old Union, dorm lounges or any other spot on campus.

Sunlight pours in through the wide, diamond-patterned windows, illuminating the room’s cheerful golden walls and smooth wooden floorboards. The airy space is comfortably decorated in warm browns, with plush velvet chairs, floral-printed rugs and abundant tables and lamps.

With Bender’s idyllic setting and ample workspace, the room appears conducive to intense study sessions–but is it? Amidst the seemingly serious workers, many Bender Room inhabitants are actually browsing random Web sites, appear completely lost in thought or have fallen asleep.

“There’s always people asleep on the couches,” Woodard laughed. “Sometimes drooling. Often drooling, actually.”

In one corner of the room, a girl is slumped face down, her Chemical Principles and Chemistry: Science of Change texts unopened as she dozes soundlessly. A boy in a green sweatshirt sits at a cubicle by the door, an assortment of papers and an open laptop spread out before him. His head nods forward and back for a moment before he straightens up, looks around and dejectedly glares down at his work.

“How cute is this?” a girl sitting on the floor whispers to her friend. She turns her computer screen, displaying a black and white striped mini dress from American Apparel on her Macbook Air. Her friend smiles and gives a nod of approval.

A set of wooden cupboards with glass windows at one end of the room display various prints, paintings, drawings and other Stanford depictions and paraphernalia, some of which dates back to the late 1800s. A boy wearing gray Vans and a bulky backpack stops to gaze into the display cases for a few minutes on his way out the door.

A boy wearing glasses and a checkered shirt stands up and wanders toward a set of large framed prints of impressive world libraries on the wall. He stops beside an image of Biblioteca Alexandria in Egypt, then the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. He glances around the room before returning to his cubicle.

The room’s door creaks open and a girl in a Stanford sweatshirt walks purposefully toward a table in the opposite corner of the room. She sits and unwinds her Apple charger before standing and relocating to the next chair over. She sips from her disposable coffee cup and takes a granola bar out of her North Face backpack.

“People always eat in there because there’s no librarian to tell you not to,” Woodard said. “One time I was eating snap peas and carrots in there really loudly and everyone stared at me. I guess that was, like, crossing the line.”

Shelves of books bearing works ranging from a thick copy of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand to Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club encircle the space. The Bender Room, with its impressive literary collection, is even enshrined in Stanford folklore.

“According to general wisdom, the Bender Room contains the best books selected by the heads of every department–say whatever 20 to 50 books represent that field of study best,” explained Kyle Wulff ’10. “There’s a sort of urban legend or Stanford myth of the Bender Room major.”

The idea behind the supposed major is that someone throughout his or her four years will make it a task to read every book in the Bender room.

“Theoretically, he or she will have the most complete, well rounded major that Stanford can provide,” Wulff said.

Major or not, many are at their most productive within the walls of the Bender Room, or at the least, they appreciate its aesthetic charm.

“The Bender Room is the crown jewel of the Stanford libraries,” Woodard sighed. “Maybe I’ll get married in the Bender Room.”

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