Being a master's degree candidate at the Harvard University Extension School, I found many great architectural and artistic works that inspired me in many ways. I contemplated the words “Enter to grow in wisdom” written in stone on the way into Harvard University through the Dexter Gate, through Harvard Yard near the Lamont Library on the south side of campus.
After I went through the gate and turned right, I entered the Lamont Library’s front doors. Many aspects of Harvard are set in Victorian type romantic style architecture, but the Lamont Library is designed much differently than the rest of the campus. From cell phone charging stations, in the student sitting areas, to the fresh coffee and cafe’, the feeling of modern comfort permeated every sense of my being from the moment I walked in the door. The students here were quite relaxed and happily focused on their work. But if they want to take some time to make copies, talk to classmates about their subjects or just take a nap on the couches, everything is available in this ultra-modern humanity and social sciences facility. Group studies to quite private areas, students have many options to achieve their study goals in this library, which makes it a very popular place for kids to come and work at any hour of the day or night.
As I continued in the library, I found the User Research Center. Just one floor down from the Lamont Cafe, the center provides the space and tools students can use to test their digital products and determine the user experience of their device. Supporting methods like interviews, prototype reviews, usability testing as well as accessibility testing, the User Research Center offers equipment students can borrow to run tests on just about anything, just about anywhere.
I had a chance to book a one-hour user session, and the research supervisor gave us a good explanation of how the service works and what to do in any given situation. So, I decided to ask if it is possible to take the device outside the library if I wanted to try it in another location.
“We can let you check out this equipment to conduct your research anywhere you like,” she said.
“Yeah, but you have to book the time with our system at least two weeks ahead of time.”
“Oh, I see.”
She went on to explain how they don’t know who our users are, but we need to test and monitor the user experience for these products, and we can make adjustments to them more naturally and organically.
Situated not far from the Lamont Library, the Harvard Library houses one of the most elegant building structures on the Harvard campus. Looking up to the main entrance as I walked up its impressive staircase joining 12 massive stone pillars, I was quite humbled by the sheer size of the building design, knowing full well that this building was built one heck of a long time ago. Entering, I swiped my ID card and proceeded across the lobby. Shrouded in white stone, marble floors, chandelier reminiscent of the candlelit lighting lifted into the air on dazzlingly high cathedral themed ceilings, complete with a fine hint of wood carvings and stained glass windows. Walking quietly, so’s not to disturb the ambiance, up to a subfloor and the main room in the entire place: the Harry Elkin Widener memorial room. Located in between the first and second floors, respectively, the memorial room is both culturally significant and architecturally impressive in its design. Dedicated to the memory of Harry Widener, who had graduated from Harvard, but died an untimely death upon the floundering of the steamboat, Titanic in 1912. His mother, Eleanor Elkins Widener, contributed an extensive collection of books from her son’s library as well as a small fortune to build the massive building during the time. This very endearing story made me feel grateful for her love and devotion to her son that died at a young age. It even reminded me of my mother. And how important it is to have family and remember each other in the future.
One of the biggest rooms in the Harvard library is fashioned in a classic, all oak wood tables, aligned horizontally from door to door with golden reading lamps, all oak wood bookshelves, and a grand vaulted sun lit skylights adorned with marble carved stonework that would impress Leonardo DaVinci. The Harvard Library reading room is the best place to go if you need quiet study time. There is no talking allowed in this room, which is great for concentrating on any one of the precious works that line the walls of this breathtaking library.
Walking out of the Harvard Yard and went back through the same gate as I entered, I noticed the inscription above the walkway, was different than before. On the way out, the words read, “depart to serve better thy country and thy kind,” got me thinking again. This sentence reminded me that my mission to come here in the first place was to learn and acquire useful knowledge and insights I can take back to Thailand and help more people back home.