Study Spaces at Durham

The past month has been consumed with the various odds and ends of getting settled into a new place. ‘Place’ here is quite a pregnant word. This new ‘place’ is in a different country, with a strong dialect, obscure though charming cultural distinctions, and vastly downsized from the megapolis we formerly called home. We’ve begun life from scratch. The normal duties of life are much harder when you must establish routine again.

Apart from setting up mobile (cell phone) service, internet, gas and electric and bank accounts, there is one task which I have yet to finish. I have not found a suitable study space.

This is a terrible plight.

The most pressing requirement for any phd student is a study space that meets very specific requirements:

1. reading is a joy

2. writing comes naturally

3. book storage(!) and accessibility

4. coffee and tea nearby

5. proper ratio of comfort, noise, and light

6.  toilet (bathroom) nearby

7. the inspiration factor

Of all the above, the last is the most important. All the other requirements might be in place, but without inspiration, the work suffers.

Here is a quick summary of the places I am considering making ‘home’ during my first year of the phd here at Durham. I list pros, cons, and IF, or ‘inspiration factor,’ described in metaphorical terms:

A. St. John’s Library – Pro: quiet, small and warm, good internet and a nice collection of theological works at hand. needs a special key for access only available to members of St. John’s college (of which I am proudly a member). Con: may get crowded, too quite at times, and a bit sleepy. IF: like having wings but not yet flying.

B. Cathedral Library – Pro: great theological resources, ancient study space, private cubbyholes where monks used to pray now outfitted with single desk and two chairs, close to department of theology. no internet, which is a huge plus to help one stay focused on READING. Con: gets cold, though this helps one stay awake. IF: i’m floating in the air. this place bleeds inspiration. magnificent. i’m studying in a 1,000 year old cathedral. come on, now.

C. Bill Bryson Library – Pro: tons of theological resources immediately at hand to read and borrow. helpful staff. Con: too big, too busy, too bright. IF: blah. like being stuck in the mud. a place to come, grab books, and head elsewhere to read them.

D. Faculty of Arts Postgraduate Study Room – Pro: locked door, no pesky undergrads, good lighting and quiet talking is allowed. lots of room to spread out. Con: may get crowded at times, not very private. a bit further away from the department of theology and from most of my seminars. IF: like walking quickly up a mountain. room to breathe. other postgrads with various books open and typing away is motivating.

That’s the end of the survey for now. I’ll give my thoughts on some other spaces once I spend some time there.



  1. Mason Alley · · Reply

    fwiw — inspiration covers a multitude of sins. been reading this stream for the last couple of weeks. fascinating (really) even for those of us not studying the original languages. you’re in my prayers!


    1. Mason, thank you for the encouraging words. I hope you find your own spaces of inspiration in which to study the Word, meditate, pray and engage in vibrant relationship with the living God.


  2. Kyle Brogmus · · Reply

    Interesting adventure in you searching for the best study space Tavis.

    May you find a peaceful, inspirational place to work.

    God can inspire you, even on the toilet or in a prison cell.


  3. Ericka Horton · · Reply

    There’s a Bill Bryson library?! I didn’t even know that existed, and yet you have it in your top 4 optimal study places! I’m so jealous. I love your blog. Excited to hear what you decide. Cathedral sounds best.

    Ericka Horton


  4. As an (apparently pesky!?) theology undergrad at Durham who’s gone through a couple of winters using the Cathedral Library I can tell you it gets very(!) cold as we get into winter. Even in one of the alcoves huddled up in jumpers and a coat I find that two hours is the longest I can last before needing to go warm up somewhere else. The good news is that the Cathedral itself is normally pretty warm, as are the shop and café so you can take a break to regain the feeling in your fingers when you need to!


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