noisy libraries

I’m guessing this might have been spurred on by the events in Maplewood, NJ. Curious to see what a bunch of people (including just a few librarians) are saying about the noise levels in libraries? Here’s a question that appear on AskMetafilter today:

Did libraries (public and university) stop requiring people to be quiet in the last few years, or is it just me?

There’s plenty of good fodder about cellphones, signage, people’s expectations, and the differences between academic and public libraries. A few interesting responses include:

Anything that makes libraries more inviting to the kids today is fine by me.

Libraries are becoming community centers with some bookshelves.

…in my experience group projects have become more and more the norm in both education and industry. This alone necessitates more group work areas in the library; group work somewhat naturally bounces between staying on-topic and becoming (loudly) social. The physical limitations of Your Local Library affect its ability to effectively offer both low-talk and quiet zones.

Jessamyn gives her summary of the situation, and there’s a link to a recent article titled “Quiet libraries morphing into busy community hubs” from the Seattle Times.

8 thoughts on “noisy libraries”

  1. The problem is that people can’t keep quiet for longer than 20 seconds and think they will die if they turn off their cell phones for more than 5 minutes.
    I hope libraries stay quiet and that people will try to understand that sometimes in society we have to think about others… and that libraries are supposed to be a place to study and read.

  2. I’ve seen various responses to noise at libraries. At MFPOW (a public library) the director made a formal decision to stop shushing patrons years ago (around 10, I believe) and this was written into the staff and patron policy manuals (the phrase was: ‘We are not a “shush” library’ ;)). However, he realized that some people preferred quiet so there were also study rooms that were sound-proofed and a policy that said that patrons had the right to complain about others that were ‘interfering with their use of the facilities’ (which could include being so loud as being unable to concentrate). If someone complained, then the staff would intervene.

    At my current job (also public library) noise tolerance varies depending on the location. If you are at a branch or the 2nd floor of the central library – normal voices with occasional loudness due to programs is tolerated. If you are in the basement of the central library (where the Children’s department and the theatre are located) a much higher level of noise is tolerated. If you are on the 1st floor of the central library (where the Reference department is located) you are expected to speak in low tones or whispers.

    I have also worked at a library where even whispers weren’t tolerated if they went on for too long! But that was a medical library.

  3. I am doing some research on noise in hospitals and how to make hospitals quieter places with behavioral (versus mechanical/structural) interventions. Someone suggested I look into libraries and spas. I would like to discuss how we “learn” that places such as libraries should be quiet and how that quiet is reinforced.

  4. I work in a library where we split the areas in two. One floor is a “quiet” discussion area, one is a “silent” area. It works pretty well, most of the time. Unfortunately the vast majority of computers are in the “silent” area (100 workstations), and computers are inherently a bit noisy with tapping keyboards, printers and the like.

    The problem is that there are always those who feel that their conversation is just too important. The phonecall is too urgent to take outside, their group work is too necessary for them to move downstairs into the quiet area (or shock, horror, into a bookable group work room).

    However sometimes (and I am guilty of this) the act of asking people to stop talking prompts a discussion as to why it is unacceptable which is just as loud, if not louder, than the previous transgression.

  5. I noticed that librarians are nosy as well as noisy. They like to look at what you are writing or reading while on the web. They will stand behind you and try to read what you are writing or try to look at what you are looking at. This is uncomfortable. The computer is already set up to restrict any unauthorized sites. So, why stand there and stare?

  6. Hi,
    I just found your “Walking Paper – Noisy Libraries”.

    I recently wrote a google website that addresses this very issue – an issue that I find disturbing, because of the apparent insensitivity of leaders to the continued need for QUIET spaces that are also human and friendly. My website address is:

    The idea that quiet is somehow unfriendly and inhuman is a grave error. QUIET is a PART of being a human being. It is the contemplative part of being human that enables individuals to think and learn at a very deep level.

    Allowing a consumer mentality to do away with such quiet is on par with allowing consumers to continue smoking because it feels good or to continue eating sweet snacks instead of vegetables becuase sweets taste better.

    We are in great danger as a civilization, if we use marketing arguments to eliminate standards of human well-being. Librarians are teachers, and they should be teaching people how to think, instead of enabling people to act just like they do at home.

    Robert Kernodle

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