Shhh…The Library is a Quiet Space

by Elizabeth on July 3, 2010 · 4 comments

in librarianship, libraries, random ranting

This week my mom pointed out an editorial in our local paper that featured someone complaining about the noise in his local public library.  He had gone in to read and have some quiet time on a weekend afternoon and was shocked to find that the library was not the somber, boring place he remembered it once being.  He was angry, wondering when the library had become a playground.
This short piece made me angry on several levels.  First off, this is not the time to be complaining about the library.  This person obviously has no clue that his local library branch is probably in danger of closing because of lack of funding.  I bet he wouldn’t be complaining if he knew that the government wanted to fire librarians, close branches, and take away his precious “quiet space” to save the city some money.  
It also made me angry because why should libraries be quiet?  Who says that is the way it’s supposed to be that way?  The old lady in the bun and glasses saying “shh” at the desk?  I’m fairly sure she left the library along with Dialog-based databases.  Aren’t libraries supposed to be part of the community, a place for families to gather and spend time together?  Isn’t that part of what we are afraid of losing with the closure of public libraries?  
This patron was obviously distressed about the amount of children.  I do have a problem with parents who use the library as a babysitter or who allow their children to run wild in the library (or really in any public place), but libraries, especially on the weekends, are going to be full of children.  And children make noise.  That’s just a simple fact.  Children make even more noise when they are with parents who are taking time to spend time with them, perhaps at a fun story time.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this; in fact, I think it is one of our biggest library treasures.  
I think this patron was clueless as to what a public library has become in the past few years. It is now a social space where you go to get a cup of coffee, play on the computer, check out some movies, listen to an author, or maybe attend a story time.  The library, the public library in any case, is no longer a place for quiet, personal study time or a place to sit and read a deep book and think deep thoughts.  You can, of course, still do that if you like, but be prepared for noise and children.  The library is a community space, and the more people who recognize this and use it as such, the better off all of our communities will be.

If a patron like this complained to you, what would you say?  Do you think the library should still be a quiet zone?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 PocketSize July 5, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Amen. Also, to add to the bit about children, who in their right mind would discourage children showing up at the library? The disgruntled patron obviously does't believe that the library should be a place where children are welcome, where they can be encouraged toward so many skills and so much knowledge and entertainment with some value. I loved going to the library when I was a kid.


2 Christine July 12, 2010 at 1:36 am

I totally agree with you on this. It did used to make me mad that people in university libraries used it as a social space. But university libraries have a totally different purpose than public ones. So, I agree. 🙂


3 Melanie July 15, 2010 at 6:43 pm

I work in a university library, and have had this complaint many times – I usually direct the unhappy user to a quiet zone. the different floors are zoned for different activities – 1st is more social, 3rd quiet, 2nd in between. It works pretty well, though we do have to move people around occasionally.


4 Kelly August 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Yes, libraries have evolved !!!
They are much more of a community space than they once were
If the childrens section is not in a seperate space , it is just going to be louder than the rest of the library .
I like to talk to the children about outside voices and inside voices .
Since our library is near a park , it is more important to explain the difference .
I try to do this with kindness . Children are not responsible for the inattentiveness of their parents .


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