Recently, the university library that I work in acquired a new store-room, outside the walls of the library itself. It's a very small-store room, not much larger than a living room. A door leads off into an even smaller store-room. It's described as being 'in the tunnel', which is rather an exciting description (to my mind). Really, it's in a small corridor that leads off from the 'tunnel', a covered walkway, that runs from the library building to the John Henry Newman building. The Newman building contains all the lecture halls and offices and class-rooms of the Arts Faculty.
There is nothing in the store-room except metal shelves, a few tables, a computer, a chair, a few dozen large volumes of old House of Parliament papers, and....I can't remember if there is anything else. Maybe a few boxes.
University College Dublin is a pretty busy campus, even in summer. But this corridor is something of a backwater. The Adult Education offices are at the end of it, through a pair of double doors, and every hour or so someone passes through them, shattering the silence for a moment or two.
Just outside the store-room, there is a photo-booth. I have used it myself, in the past. There was plenty of demand for a photo-booth in UCD until recent years, when the various departments and institutions started taking their own photos for ID cards, rather than asking people to bring passport-sized photos. (Although the library still asks this, sometimes, for external borrowers.) People sometimes ask where they can find a photo-booth, so it must still be in use, but I haven't seen anyone go into it for a long, long time. It has the almost-antiquated air of a public telephone box.
I'm fascinated by the pictures on it. The main picture is one of a pretty woman with dark hair beaming and raising a finger in the air. (I didn't notice the finger until I started working in the room. I used to think she was very cute, when I merely glimpsed at her as I passed through the 'tunnel', but now I've had a closer look she seems brash and less attractive.)
I wonder why pretty women are the almost-automatic choice for advertising anything, no matter what it is? To appeal to men? But then again, women's magazines and advertising aimed at women also use pictures of women, almost exclusively. And very often it's not a picture of the woman using the product or service-- she's just smiling. It's intriguing.
Other pictures on the photo-booth attempt to be quirky, advertising the 'fun photos' you can take using it. There is a photo of a man whose head is positioned in the middle of a dollar bill. There is a photo of a man with a thought bubble coming out of his head, in which is shown the torso of a bikini-clad woman. A similar photo has a woman dreaming of a muscular male torso. I always feel mildly embarrassed when I look at these 'fun' photos. I'm not saying I could come up with anything better, but they seem painfully unfunny to me, and I wonder who would buy them.
And yet, I always feel strangely happy when I look at this photo-booth. It's just waiting to be used. Somebody designed it. Somebody must maintain it, and make a living from it. It exists to please, to serve. The pictures on it promise happiness. And fun.
There is an advertisment for the computer game Gears of War 2 on the wall of the corridor. It's a mounted advertisement, with a hard plastic cover over it. What it is doing there, I have no idea. But it pleases me that it is there, so bizarrely out of the way of anything.
My job in the store-room, one morning and one afternoon a week, is to make an Excel file of all the House of Parliament papers in the room, which date from the nineteenth century and all have to do with Ireland. I was told it would be interesting, and people keep saying "that must be interesting". It's not interesting. Bureaucracy is boring, whether it's from 1842 or 2014. Committee reports are dull, no matter what century they come from.
Still, I like the room very much. It used to be used as a store-room for the Student's Union shop, and a few Student's Union people still walk in, looking for something or other, and are surprised to see me there.
But apart from that, nobody comes in. Nobody is looking over my shoulder. Nobody is going to walk up to me with a query about a printer not working or a colossal overdue fine they're astonished won't be waived as a matter of course.
True, there's no companionship, either. But I can do without companionship for a couple of hours here and there.
It also has no window. I like that. Windows can be magical things, but a windowless room often stirs my imagination more than any glimpse of the outside world.
I like the smell of dust in the air. I like the bareness. I like the fact that I can get up and dance around the room or do stretching exercises-- and I often do both, despite the fact that the room is fronted by a hatch, with a metal grille that can just about be seen through from the corridor. I like the sound of far-away voices and footsteps from people passing in the tunnel outside. (The tunnel is only ten steps away, but it still seems a great distance.) I like the fact that the corridor is not completely deserted, only relatively deserted, and other people do pass through every now and again.
I've only been working in this room for a few weeks but I find it's rather haunting my imagination. Out-of-the-way and unregarded and purely functional places like this have a certain soulfulness to them. Boiler rooms, cellars, attics, warehouses, box rooms, changing rooms, post rooms...they're so unapologetic, so blunt, so uncomplicated. They cleanse and refresh the spirit-- or my spirit, anyway. And the silence they hold....well, I always find something in their silence that I can't find anywhere else. But I can't really describe it. Maybe I don't have to?