A scribbled-on notebook and a cup of lukewarm coffee vie for space on a table strewn with a fine trail of muffin crumbs. Looking up from the chaos, I survey the room. The warm, bright lighting of Lamont Café stands in stark contrast to the pitch-black night outside the picture windows.
Armed with hearty doses of caffeine, dozens of students flock to Lamont Library each night, fighting the urge to sleep amid a perpetual illusion of daytime. Sinking down into the cushion of my chair, I, too, struggle to keep my eyes any higher than half-mast. The time is 2:30 a.m.
Since its opening in 1949, Lamont Library has been more than just a hub for research and study. Open for a full 24 hours every Sunday through Thursday, Lamont also serves as a haven for that particular breed of Harvard student, the “Lamonster.” The species walks among us each day, but by night, the Lamonters nestle into the comfortable library chairs, sometimes not to emerge again until morning.
Though reports vary as to what it’s like to spend a night in Lamont, it’s clear that as the night drags into morning, the library ambience changes drastically.
“I think there is a certain hour when the atmosphere becomes one of desperation,” said Ariel R. Walzer ’15 of Leverett House, seated at a table in Lamont Café earlier that evening. “Most people have trickled out, but there are a few people who are about to commit to an all-nighter.”
Another student, Yoav Shaked ’17, situated not too far from Walzer with little more than his laptop and some coffee, dislikes the relaxed, solitary atmosphere of the library late at night, he said while preparing an outline for a Gov 20 paper.
“Sometimes the library changes for the better when you can tell that everyone around you is working,” said Shaked. “It pushes you to work a little harder yourself.”
At 2:00 a.m., Jack C. Smith ’15, a rower in Kirkland House, begins closing down Lamont Café, where he works occasionally. From behind the counter, Smith has had a unique vantage point from which to witness the student experience at Lamont, able to track trends in their purchases and behavior as the nights progress.
“You can tell when it’s a p-set night, because the café will be packed until midnight,” Smith said. “You start to see people bleary-eyed and walk[ing] like zombies toward the counter. Especially as the night goes on.”
Savory and salty snacks, for example, tend to be in high demand as the hours tick by. Red Bull and espresso shots become equally popular: “People definitely ask, as the night goes on, ‘What has the most caffeine per milligram?’” Smith said.
Smith himself is not entirely exempt from this phenomenon: Apart from facilitating the Lamonster habit, at times he verges on becoming one himself. Early-morning crew practices, combined with the the late nights working at Lamont Café, “can lead to some very irregular hours,” Smith said.
Smith tends to think that since he’s going to be up late anyway, he might as well get paid to do so. Still, he claimed, “I’ve never fallen asleep on the job.”
After about a year working at the café, Smith has also become well acquainted with a number of “regulars,” students who stop by night after night to satisfy a craving or down a caffeinated beverage.
“People who work different shifts and different nights will tell you that there are different regulars for different days of the week, too,” Smith said with the authority of a zoologist well-versed in the ways of the Lamonster. “But there are some people who are just here all the time.”