Can libraries be too noisy?

Is this blogger just a grump, or are libraries really too noisy?

I’ve spent loads of time in libraries, working, talking, reading, listening to Lieder, wandering the fiction stacks. As a 16-year-old I managed a youth theater camp at a local library. I got fired from my workstudy job at the music library. And I found lunch break respite at a quiet little Philly library where a sign on the door reads “No Cellphones.” Some of these libraries were noisier than others; most of what was happening at Crane Music Library in the early 2000’s was loud gossiping at the front desk and in the computer lab. (No, gossiping isn’t what got me fired.) But I’ve certainly been in my share of hushed library environments where the idea of calling across the room to greet a friend would have seemed as preposterous as actually approaching a reference librarian for help. 

Peace and Quiet?
Shrugging off past library member experiences and donning the librarian cloak (one day I hope to be a super librarian, too), I find myself asking: Why in the world would a library need to be a quiet place? I understand the need for rooms or nooks for quiet study and reading, but most libraries today are happening places. Community members come to most types of libraries for different reasons, and not all of these require quiet.

Sure, come to study in one of the designated quiet rooms, but also come to meet your neighbors. Talk about what you’ve read, set up a play date for your kids who are making friends over in the gaming area, tweet about what a great time you’re having, and while you’re at it have a cup of coffee, pull out your Nook, put up your feet and stay awhile.

One of my favorite places to read and surf the internet is in my local coffeeshop. I can drink coffee just the way I like it at home and save a good dollar per cup. So why do I like going to places like Mello Velo cafe and Chapterhouse? The community. The buzz (and I’m not talking about coffee). I like to eavesdrop on what everyone else is saying. I like getting interrupted mid-paragraph to lean my ear toward someone talking about the run-in she just had with her crazy landlord or her favorite restaurant. Think of it as the real-world analog for the TweetDeck notification sound, Gen Y folk.

I’m in favor of libraries that have made an effort to grow toward community center. Anyone seen an inspiring example they can share with me?


5 thoughts on “Can libraries be too noisy?

  1. I love the idea of a library as a place where the community can come and “hang out”. I believe there should still be designated quiet areas where people can read and study, but the main part of the library where the computers are and where people check out books, should allow noise! We have to change the way we think about libraries because people are using them for things other than studying and reading.

  2. I can appreciate that there should be an area in a library, like a cafe or lounge, that is a community hangout, but I really can appreciate a quiet library sometimes! The library can be an oasis in a society where we are inundated with TV, radio, advertisements, and people always talking, shouting, prattling on. It’s nice to be able to step off the streets and find sanctuary. Also, while sometimes I do want to mix and mingle and hear what’s going on in other people’s lives (and there are a lot of places to do so), 9 times out of 10: No, I don’t. I don’t want to hear your music as you blast it driving past my house, I don’t want to hear you shouting at your kids, I don’t want to hear who was flirting with who. I give exactly no shits and don’t need it cluttering up my airspace. (Whew, grumpy blogger rant-style!) See, while in theory it’d be super-cool to have a community hotspot where people could chat, commiserate and swap recipes, allowing for that would also require that you allow for the more obnoxious elements of society (that guy in the video being a mild example) to take over the space. I don’t know if this is desirable…
    So, yeah, a “community area” can be good, but let’s not go crazy.

    • Ah, yes. It’s perhaps the most annoying feature of a democracy: having to listen to other people exercise their freedoms, especially of speech. It’s one reason I can’t really go to Recess Coffee anymore (–too many undergraduates talking about being young and in college and I find it simultaneously fascinating, annoying, and overall very distracting from my Apartment Therapy browsing.

      Is this just the price we should pay to allow heterogeneous environments that encourage idea exchange? I’ve heard people say the internet is encouraging us to join communities of folks just like us. They (I can’t remember where I read this or who I’ve talked to about this) think this behavior is potentially dangerous because we’re no longer exposed to the point of view–and annoying behaviors–of those who don’t like the same things we do/look like we do/live where we do/do what we do/think like we do/shop where we shop/need the same things out of a democracy that we do. (I’m guilty of this, by the way.) Should we actively seek out or at least tolerate being uncomfortable for the sake of embracing the American melting pot, even if it includes undergrads and shouting parents? Is a library the place for this sort of thing, anyway?

  3. Dang, when you put it like that… I mean, I do believe that the library serves a basic function of providing a variety of information and broadening people’s range of experience (potentially beyond their “comfort zone”) and I suppose that can and possibly must include direct interaction with people as well as indirectly through library materials. Ugh, you got me there. BUT! But. While it is the library’s duty to have a range of information/experience available, it is not the library’s place to force that information/experience upon people. Ha-HA! Therefore, I stick by having a social interaction/non-quiet AREA available.

    Also, of potential interest and not entirely unrelated, Marie’s post on personal bias:

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