Reflecting on Lake Mendota


One table in particular in the Hamel Family Browsing Library offers a view of Lake Mendota and Memorial Union Terrace that seems to help contemplation. (Photo by Léo Kim)

One table in particular in the Hamel Family Browsing Library offers a view of Lake Mendota and Memorial Union Terrace that seems to help contemplation. (Photo by Léo Kim)

The wind-whipped surface of Lake Mendota in early winter provides precisely the kind of visual resting point that helps your concentration while studying, reading or writing. The moving surface catches your eye, giving your mind time to wander in that way that’s productive rather than distracting.

It sure beats checking your Twitter feed for the thousandth time that day.

That’s part of what makes the Hamel Family Browsing Library in Memorial Union such a good place to hunker down and get some work done. It’s deathly silent, cozily lined with wood and, at the front table at least, has a view of Lake Mendota and the Terrace that’s tough to beat.

Tucked into a drawer in that front table are a few anonymous notes from people reflecting on their time at the University of Wisconsin–Madison — or poking fun at their serious predecessors:

The front table harbors notes from contemplative students. (Photo by Eric Hamilton)

The front table harbors notes from contemplative students. (Photo by Eric Hamilton)

hello good man! or lady! I am sure as of now you are studying. However, I just wanted to inform you that you don’t need a grade to make you smart. You don’t need others approval to make you Beautiful. And you don’t need a degree to be successful. You! Are smart, Beautiful, and successful just the way you are. And don’t let anyone tell you different. Semper Amore. Love you Lots.

Reading room note one

Take a break — did you read that note? pretty cool… it prompted me to think about why I’m here… to be honest, I’m not exactly sure why I’m here yet. Although, I am sure that this the coolest place I’ve ever been. The atmosphere here is electric. It embodies all of the souls who have ever been here. Imagine how many people have studied here… how many late nights have been spent here since 1948. How many people have looked out this same window, out at the beautiful terrace and over the blustry, choppy lake. Why were they here — what did they do with their time at Madison? What will you do?

Reading room note 2

what up

Reading room note 3

This reading room was redone during phase one of the Memorial Union renovation. During construction, workers uncovered an ornate ceiling that had once been covered and hardwood floors beneath the carpet. Both were restored. As best we can tell, little has changed since the Union opened in 1928. The original plans for Memorial Union called for a “Library & Reading Room” in the space. It seems to have been designed as a place for quiet reflection and studious work and, though details have changed over the decades, it remains so today.

The Hamel Family Browsing Library was originally called the Library & Reading Room

The Hamel Family Browsing Library was originally called the Library & Reading Room

No doubt that Arthur Peabody, the state architect who designed Memorial Union, envisioned the same view out onto the lake that inspired these anonymous writers to leave behind their thoughts for posterity. Generations since must have looked out and wondered what they would do with their time at UW–Madison — albeit probably not on post-it notes, considering they weren’t invented until the 1970s.

But post-it notes are as good a way to ask as any other: What will you do with your time here?