The smell reminded her of her schooldays near Boston back in Amherst when she had worked in the library on the quadrangle in front of the admin building at the circulation desk.
Prepositions are those little words that show some "positioning" in time, space, or idea. Usually they connect two nouns-- with the main noun modified a prepositional phrase with the other noun as an object. Problem is, prepositional phrases, as modifiers, should be adjacent to the modified noun. But what happens, as so often does, when we have a series of prepositional phrases? We end up with monstrosities like the above sentence.
First:, recognize the problem. Learn what constitutes a prepositional phrase: (preposition word) (noun or phrase). Notice that stacking any prepositional phrases in a sentence almost always results in chaos-- why? Because prep phrases have to modify a noun, and the further they get from that noun, the more likely there is to be confusion. Accept that and try to avoid the whole stacking problem. Also notice in revision and resolve to fix.
Second, understand that the object of the preposition is a noun too, usually, and can sprout its own modifying prepositional phrases. So IN the LIBRARY modifies worked (yeah, I know, that's an adverbial function, and I have to think why... the verb is probably "worked in," but I'll come back to that after lunch when I can think).
But "library" has its own modifier:
NEAR the quadrangle
And "quadrangle" has its own modifier-- this is the quadrangle near the admin building.
IN FRONT OF the admin building.
That's sort of clunky, but understandable, until we stick in "at the circulation desk" which modifies not admin building, not quadrangle, but 'library" (where in the library she worked). (Would you put that before or after? She worked at the circ desk in the library, or She worked in the library at the circ desk? Why?)
Third, prioritize. When there are so many prepositional phrases, the reader is going get lost even if they're assembled in the right order. What's important to this moment of the story? She's looking back nostalgically at her schooldays. There's also some smell that reminds her (so she might think about a smell). She might be nostalgic about working in the library, but the positioning of the library on the campus probably isn't that important. So why put it in, if there's no need? Try changing a prep phrase to an adjective word-- "in Amherst" becomes "Amherst schooldays" or "Amherst library." Strip this down to essentials, and if you want to deepen the texture, give more sense of the setting, well, don't draw a map. Talk about the ivy on the stone walls or the dust on the library shelves or something evocative (and, given the sentence opening, something olfactory if possible).
smell reminded her of her Amherst schooldays when
she had worked at the library circulation desk, stamping books and breathing in the ink and dust.
This is a common issue with good writers who know they have to imbed information into each sentence so it adds to the meaning and the texture of the passage. That is, the more accomplished you are, the more likely your first draft will occasionally have one of these preposition-bristling sentences. Here's one modeled structurally on one I just saw in a generally well-edited news magazine:
The firing happened a little more than two weeks after Luigi's mistake of telling his boss to take a flying leap while at work in a meeting with
the whole staff in the conference room.
Have at it. This is actually tougher than it looks. :)