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Thanks HN (removed.posterous.com)
180 points by pace on Dec 11, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

If you live in the Northern Virginia Area, you can hit the phenomenal Johnson Center at George Mason University.

Private group rooms (with whiteboards), a semi-isolated reference area for even more quiet, couches, coffee tables, power at most tables, a movie theater, coffee bar, cafeteria (with everything from a taco bell to chinese food), convenience store, two banks (last I checked), a pretty good uni book store, art exhibitions, a halfway decent restaurant on the top floor and a computer store, parking decks are pretty close and relatively cheap.

If even has a private prayer area in case you need to call to a higher power for help with a particularly difficult bug.

Wifi requires you to be a student (last I checked), but tether to your phone and you're pretty much all set.

If you're working with a distributed team and don't want to shell out $3-4 grand a month on office space, just pay for parking once or twice a week and use this facility.

(also, if the Johnson Center is full-up, there's always the Fenwick library across campus that can be even more private since fewer people use it, and I believe most of the technical reference books are stored in the stacks there)

Is being able to work in a university library as a member of the public standard practice in Germany? (Or is the poster an alumnus, perhaps?) I'd love to do that here in the UK but they're key-carded to the hilt.

All university libraries in Germany are open to the general public if you have an ID card/passport.

For some libraries you have to pay a small fee to get an access card. The mentioned Grimm Zentrum/HU library is free of charge:

"The Humboldt University Library is a scientific library open to the general public. Every person over sixteen years of age and resident in Germany may register to use it in accordance with the Library's Benutzungsordnung (Regulations of Use)." => see http://www.ub.hu-berlin.de/using-the-library/registration

Some libraries limit the borrowing of books (depends on the library) to university members (usually because of high demand) but you can almost always read the book while at the library.

Of course it's not allowed to do commercial work like coding on your startup, but if you don't annoy the people, probably nobody will care...

To work at Grimm Library, you don't even need an id or anything. Just go there. But they have some rules about main times of the day like 8-19 reserved for actual students - although I never experienced anybody controlling it.

I go there for anti-procrastination as well, it's great.

Some of the university libraries in Berlin are quite strict about what you're allowed to bring in (ie, no bags of any size). Fortunately, the Amerika-Gedenk-Bibliothek is close by and if they have such policies, they certainly don't enforce them.

Haven't been to the Grimm yet, but I remember passing by on the S-Bahn maybe a year ago and being excited about the huge new library under construction...I'm not in Mitte very often.

… and those rules are quite often not strictly enforced. It’s usually no problem for anyone to walk right in and start reading books. As long as you behave appropriately for a library it’s no problem.

In the US it depends, but I'd venture a guess and say most public university libraries are open at least regularly to the general public. Most of the schools in my state are on this [1] list, and most law libraries I've encountered are also open to the public as well. After hours access is usually restricted to those with a library card though.

[1] http://www.gpoaccess.gov/libraries.html

Apparently gpoaccess is no longer being updated and is shutting down in 2012. It looks like the new system is:


At my university everybody can just walk into the library during normal hours. After that, you need a (photo id) library card (which you can get right there in the library for 10 euros). This card not only allows you 24 hour access to the building itself, but to also loan books, get access to journals and newspapers, etc... I certainly can't speak for every university library here in germany, but I have so far seen quite a few (visiting friends all over germany), where this is common practice (I do not know about getting a library card there, though).

Wow, 24 hour access? Damn.

I feel like in the states it really varies. Brown university and RISD (down the hill) both require a Brown or RISD ID to get in but in high school in Seattle I did all of my research for history in University of Washington's largest library which is open to the public. I sometimes wish any of these were open 24 hours though.

I grew up in a US college town. As a high school student (or any state resident I think) I could just go in and get a library card, and check out books. Anyone can get into the library, even without a card. Some caveats, it's a public university, and the main library was wide open, but there are also several small libraries strewn about campus (engineering, geology, chemistry, etc) that you may or may not have to swipe to get into. I think once you get a card, you can get in though, as I remember getting a card to getin into the earth sciences library for a high school project.

I can't speak for Germany, but in the United States practices vary. You can't just walk into the library at the University of Wisconsin, but at North Carolina State you can.

Even in the case of Wisconsin, it looks like state residents can get a membership on a reasonably cheap yearly fee. Though I didn't see it mentioned, I'd assume this would include building access during normal hours. (Though perhaps that's a bad assumption?)


Informally, I checked the websites of a handful of state universities, and all had some way for residents to obtain borrowing privileges. It's far from a comprehensive survey, and I may be wrong in my assumption that borrowing privileges would allow normal building access. Still, at first glance it seems promising.

As the other kind reply to your comment said, sometimes access to open stacks and circulating privileges are distinct. Here in Minnesota, any member of the general public can enter the open stacks of all the University of Minnesota Libraries. I can readily gain circulating privileges as a "friend of the library" for a small fee, made smaller in my case because there is discounted membership fee for being a friend of the library for members of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association.

When I lived in Washington State, I had no particular connection with U Dub, but I could also walk onto campus and walk into the library shelving areas with no problem. When I wanted to circulate books, I looked up the state administrative regulations (it helped that I was working as a lawyer, so I knew how to look those up) and found out that a state regulation basically allows most state residents to obtain circulating privileges at University of Washington libraries for the payment of a small fee. That library has a GREAT collection of materials on east Asian languages, and I circulated some of those while I was living in Washington state.

You _can_ just walk into the library at the University of Wisconsin. There is only one library on the Madison campus (Memorial Library) that requires an ID to enter. That leaves 49 other libraries on campus open to anyone.

Fair enough, I was thinking of Memorial. And, for that matter, I was thinking of one particular library at NC State which may have been for math and science only.

Nah, at NC State, D. H. Hill (the main library) is open to the public during normal hours. The "satellite libraries" are Design, Textiles, Natural Resources, and Veterinary Medicine, and I'm not sure whether those are open access or not.

I also don't know whether the new Hunt Engineering Library is going to be public access or not, but I hope it will be because it's going to be awesome.

Most university libraries in Canada are open to the public. I didn't realize how much I should appreciate this. My partner and I work at the nearby (well, by Canadian standards) uni library once or twice a week. I look forward to those times. We even went through a couple-month period of going there every day, but that had too much time-overhead.

What I learned about this new library afterwards: it was allowed before it got too crowded and university members couldn't get workplaces anymore (they have about 1,250 places and 30,000 students). So now, you can enter the library as a non-student, rent books but you are not allowed to use the workplaces (they check at times if your student-id is laid out on the desk but they didn't when I've been there)

Exeter University is open to the public, although they've just done massive amounts of work on it and I don't know how it's turned out.

It might be worth taking another look at your nearest Uni library, as I think quite a few are similar to Exeter/Durham, at least in the day and if you don't want to take out books.

My local university is Lincoln and I'm on campus every now and then as I have friends who work in their enterprise park. They have an excellent and reasonably new library but you need a student card to even get in since they put barcode scanner gates in when they built it. Their Web site notes this also :-(

That said, I might go and explicitly ask sometime, as there may be an unpublicised way around the problem.

Some Australian University libraries are open access (Sydney Uni if I remember correctly), but others have card-only access points out the wazoo.

(I can't get into UTS' library anymore; my old student card must apparently be blocked now.)

Yeah, at least at Latrobe an rmit there doesn't seem to be any reason why you can't, apart from probably having to bring your own connectivity. I don't see them actively encouraging it but not policing it either.

Here in Durham the University and cathedral libraries are open to local residents to use. I'd recommend visiting the cathedral one if you're ever here, it's an amazing place to study.

Getting into a place where Internet connectivity is either not available or is very spotty helps. I've done some of my best programming in trains.

Sure, not having access to documentation sucks, but not having access to HN and Twitter compensates for it well :-)

When I'm disconnected, I tend to just leave a bunch of comments in code with ONLINE in them and what I need to look up and recover my train of thought.

I then switch to working on a different part of the program, or a different program altogether, and come back to them when I'm next online.

This has worked pretty well for me so far, as long as I'm not under a time crunch.

That is a good point. Another tag like TODO and FIXME :-)

I've noticed that I eventually get "push anxiety" when I work offline for longer periods. Once we even had to do a detour on a road trip from Poland to Helsinki to stop by a colleague's office in Sweden to be able to push code I had written on the way. I guess I simply don't trust my laptop...

Push anxiety, excellent.:w I suffer from write anxiety.:w I've been helping someone learn to program,:w and as I watch him write code I feel more tense the longer he goes:w without writing his file.:w When I mentioned this as a matter of human interest,:w and as an introduction to why you should save often,:w he laughed.:w I'm quite confident I will have the last laugh on him before he truly learns that lesson.:wq

This is a great reason to get a phone capable of tethering.

In my experience, simply changing environments may cause an increase in productivity. Even if the new environment isn't strictly better, you still get a boost until you get acclimated. This might be crazy, but some sort of random rotation between various work environments might yield a sustained improvement in productivity.

There's the fairly well-established Hawthorne Effect[1] when applied to measuring productivity in others, but I'm not sure how well it would apply to self-analysis since you actually know the details of what you're studying.


Changing a variable usually increased productivity, even if the variable was just a change back to the original condition. However it is said that this is the natural process of the human being to adapt to the environment without knowing the objective of the experiment occurring.

Unless you're measuring against some concrete metric though, there's potential for misinterpreting a feeling of increased productivity vs actually achieving it. Also, you may be more motivated since you know you're measuring your output.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect

I have a proper fully equipped office at home, and a designated workplace for the company i run where developers i work with operate. I instead prefer to work from Coffe Shops simply because they offer distractions at such a minimum threshold. It works for me because A) Crappy Wi-Fi : So i can't stream Youtube or Hulu or download movies or Tv-Series yet not bad enough for me to be able to look up online documentation, parse through StackOverFlow, hold voice calls over Skype or make SVN commits. B) My external hard disks that contain the bulk-load of my sources of distractions, are no longer a moment's click away. C)No useless camaraderie, noone ambling by your desk to engage you in menial distracting conversations. It's just me , and my Macbook. D)For about 10$ (Two coffes per day), i get a serene and beautifully decorated place, that's hot in winters, cold in summers,complete with a comfy Sofa and a little table all my own, and for what is a sheer bonus in this part of the world, no power interruptions ! (7+ hours of no power is regular over here in summers).

If i feel a need to have one of my devolepers or my designer collaborate with me more closely than Skype voice calls can afford, i prefer to call them over to the coffee shop rather than go over to the office.It works for the kind of work i do.It may not for everyone. It's cheap, it's comforting, and it's completely distraction free. I get more done in 3 hours over here than in 10 at any other place.

In my experience, almost any productivity "treatment" works at first, until you get used to it. But, I hope I'm wrong and this continues to work out for you.

LoL I always think this will work then I remember WiFi speeds suck compared to my UVerse connection and so I stay at home and the cycle repeats.

Glad you made it work though :)

Worse: I couldn't get into the WLAN (students only), so I could only use my phone's Internet connection w/384Kbit/s -- but that was good, you get so effective with such a low bandwidth (using Google's mobile client, doing only must searches etc.)

Bad interenet is a feature.

Lmao. Love the ending.

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