“Social interaction has its place and time, but so does uninterrupted work.”
I don’t visit our public library anymore. It is no longer a place of quiet study. Young parents turn their little kids loose. Rough-looking teenage girls cluster around the free Internet computers IM-ing each other, hooting and giggling. Seniors pull up chairs and play cards for hours. There are the people who bray into their cell phones. I wonder why they go there at all. They don’t come to study or research. What work are they doing? What deep thoughts do they cultivate?
Today I order my library books on-line, stop by to pick them up and quickly get out. A shame, because I used to sit for hours leisurely reading or strolling through the stacks, looking at spines and thumbing through books. My library was a place of escape, a haven, a place to recharge. Introverts like me are energized by solace. Social bedlam drains us. No, the e-people (extroverts) have taken over.
Starbucks is quieter than my library. What happened?
Libraries decided to become ‘gathering places.’ Librarians put aside the ‘shush’ and took down the ‘Quiet’ signs. Behind this misguided objective of inclusiveness was a desire to ramp up foot traffic. More feet means more funding. A humming library is less likely to get its budget slashed. So video checkouts, coffee shops, ‘community rooms’ and theaters are the new norm. Of course, this drew in more people, but at a cost. People like me won’t go there anymore. Where can we go?
Greg Lambert, Library & Records Manager at King & Spalding LLP, writes about this dilemma. University of Arizona undergrads are now banned from the school’s law library. Their numbers were too large for the small space, displacing the law students who must go there. This tomb-like library, a “best kept secret,” was a sanctuary for getting things done. The main library is overrun by chatterboxes. Studious undergrads have no place to think.
This can be a problem in the office, too. Those employees unlucky enough to work in an ‘open office’ (meaning: “we are too cheap to spend much money on offices, so we’ll just put desks in the middle of the floor and call it a social environment”) will run to building lobbies with their laptops. They plead for a telecommuting day. They hide in the dark corner of an empty cafeteria, back to the door, hoping no one will see them. They long for the glorious bygone years when they had a cubicle with six-foot walls.
The workplace, like the library, needs a ‘shusher’ so people can get things done.
As a kid in the Pleistocene Era, I knew I had to be quiet in the library. All the librarians were expert ‘shushers.’ Most were equipped with Disapproving Glances. An arched eyebrow and a pursed lip was enough to quiet any ten-year-old. My school library at Sts. Cyril and Methodius had Nun-Librarians with Seek-And-Destroy Anti-Chatter Death Rays.
Our library in Woodbury, The R. H. Stafford Library, (not the ‘Woodbury Library,’ mind you) has a Quiet Room with a soft chair and some tables. It’s not big enough. I think they have it backwards. They should rename it The Inconsiderate, Rude and Loud People Room. Anyone with the need to speak above the merest whisper must be sent there. The Rest Of The Library can then return to blissfull quiet for Everyone Else.
But they must bring back the SHUSH!
From Salem Press (Photo by Melinda Stone)