As dawn breaks over McGill campus, still glistening with last night's freezing rain, all seems quiet. The Y-intersection is deserted and most doors won't open for another couple of hours. But, rest assured, there is one building that never sleeps: The McLennan-Redpath Library complex. Majestic, isolated, and open 24 hours seven days a week, it is perhaps the most delicate and dynamic ecosystem of the McGillian wilderness. This extraordinary habitat and its intricate topography house a range of species, and there is no better time to observe them than the midterm migration. This mass movement begins shortly after add/drop season, and will continue until the arrival of finals.
The inhabitants of McLennan at this time of year are as diverse as they are spectacular, and patterns of movement vary among species. None, however, are immune to the existential threat of an upcoming midterm. Research suggests that the words "40 per cent of your grade" actually trigger a survival mechanism in the McGill student, pushing species of all varieties—from suited-up Bronfman dwellers to late-night Burnside outcasts—to the common haven of McLennan.
Among the earliest arrivals are the post morning-lecture migrants—that elite breed that maintains 8:30 a.m. class attendance even after the first week of the semester. They forage for sustenance at Snax or Dispatch, and, as a reward for their early rise and morning trek, get first pick of the highly coveted first floor window perches. Midterms may loom, but this group of regular inhabitants remains calm. McLennan is their home. It will not betray them at this critical moment.
The post-morning-lecture migrants share their habitat with a demographic that is, in many ways, the very opposite—the last-minute-paper-writers and afternoon-midterm-crammers. These academic renegades rely on a diet of pure caffeine and evade extinction on an hour-to-hour basis. Interspecies mingling is rare. With the exception of the occasional printer conflict, the two groups coexist peacefully.
The peak of activity comes at noon, as a combination of motivation and pure panic drives hoards of students to McLennan’s doors. Herds of first-years set up camp on the first and second floors, seeking confidence and security in numbers. The subspecies of this young group can be usefully categorized in terms of emotional stability—one half bears the crippling anxiety of facing midterms for the first time, while the other half still remains blissfully naïve to it. By finals, sadly, the latter group will be an endangered species.
The more hardened fourth-year specimen, meanwhile, is a solitary creature, but claims its territory through intimidation. It has two laptop chargers, an abused course pack, and a granola bar. The first-years accept these displays of superiority and steer clear.
As the day rolls on, the wide variation in the library’s terrain and function is revealed. The Première Moisson watering hole is a hub of interspecies interaction, attracting hungry students with its overpriced nourishment and early 2000s pop and soft rock music. Similarly, the adjoining Redpath Library serves as a noisy meeting place for group projects and review sessions.
As one travels upward, away from the camaraderie of group studying and further into the realm of Darwinian survival of the fittest, the topography becomes harsher. A desolate, silent wasteland of fluorescent lighting and empty coffee cups, the sixth floor is capable of sustaining only the most resilient forms of life: Grad students. Thanks to an adaptive mutation, however, the midterm-laden McGill undergraduate student can suppress all self-preservation instincts in order to venture onto this floor. It no longer actually needs to live. It just needs to pass this semester.
Night falls, bringing with it the exodus of those lucky specimens who make it out alive, and the arrival of those incredibly unlucky ones that have a midterm the next day that they have yet to study for. These nocturnal creatures strip both their coats and their morale to hunker down for the long, lonely night ahead. But, as always, morning will come. And whether it brings victory or defeat or something in between, McLennan will still be there when they return.