My family and I have been enjoying some holiday films, all courtesy of our local library:
Because my daughter works in the local library system, she can easily put a “hold” on a few family favorites, and we usually receive the film in a few days. I want to make sure others have an opportunity to enjoy the movies (especially before the holidays), so we view each one as soon as possible (often at night and with large bowls of freshly popped-straight from the stovetop-popcorn with butter) and return it to the library the next day.
My Love of Libraries Then
As a child I loved visiting the local library. My memories of the Richardsonian Romanesque building that housed books by Twain, Dickens, Austen, Dumas, Salten and Doyle are wonderful ones. Upon entering the imposing old structure, my demeanor would immediately change: clomping about was replaced by a tiptoe; all silliness ceased; and, perhaps most importantly, my usually raucous voice morphed into a whisper. A whisper so whispery those unfortunate souls who were brave enough to ask me a question, would, without fail, respond to my answer with their own whispery “What?”
I had learned the lesson well: A library is a place of quiet, where people go to study, to read, to contemplate.
Yet despite my quiet stride, every step I took provoked a loud “creak” from the ancient floorboards, the sound reverberating throughout the enormous open space so that studious patrons reflexively looked my way. I learned quickly to avert my eyes as I shuffled toward my favorite sections, and it was a happy day when I figured out which floorboards were silent.
My Love of Libraries Today
It wasn’t until my daughter began her job that I again found myself inside a library. We attend as many book sales as we can, and at times we set out to visit a different library branch. However, the experience is not quite the same as when I was young. Need to find a book? Simply locate the nearest computer (gasp! instead of a card catalog!). Ready to check out your newfound treasures? Skip the Human Assistant Librarian and use the self-checkout station.
While these differences have been attributed to progress, one difference cannot be. In fact, this painfully different common characteristic has nothing to do with progress at all and has everything to do with retrogression. But is it really retrogression when in a small, open building patrons converse loudly, a conversation so loud one can hear every word? On this chilly day, no matter where I roamed—children’s graphic novels, biographies, poetry, romance novels—the conversation followed along, wafting through the air unbroken, keeping me apprised of every detail concerning the patron’s educational history of her now-adult son.
Is This the New Normal?
Perhaps if another library user had not been studying at a table less than 10 feet away from the prattling patrons, books and papers spread about, I would not have felt so annoyed. I will never know. I do know I was elated when the chatterers finally left, and I whispered to my daughter to make her final selections. I welcomed the fresh quietness of the little library, and I decided to browse the DVDs.
The peacefulness I felt left me as quickly as it had flooded my senses. Once again the sound of loud voices permeated the little library, and it didn’t take me long to realize the voices belonged to the library employees.
I should not have been surprised. My daughter once told me that it is a natural occurrence at the branches she has worked. In fact, some months ago a patron asked her to tell the librarians to lower their voices as she was trying to concentrate.
A Thing of the Past
Online chatter reveals the supposed reasons why quiet libraries are a thing of the past, and commenters point to the increase of community programs as its chief justification. I understand these programs are important, and they go hand in hand with elevated noise levels. Larger libraries even have separate study rooms (most of the library branches where my daughter works are quite small). Another library designates quiet time between the hours of noon and three.
Others online have written that people no longer utilize libraries for studying or to simply find a quiet space, but that notion goes against everything I have witnessed (and that my daughter has witnessed). In fact, many patrons have no access to the internet and use the library’s computers for job searches, research, word processing, and for sending emails.
All of us are occasionally oblivious as to how our actions affect others. I suspect the pandemic, forcing many to go out less often, has caused us to seize any interaction until there is nothing left to say. It’s possible the situations I have observed are simply borne out of underused (and long-forgotten) manners.
Our Wonderful, Wonderful Libraries
I’m grateful for libraries. Communities need them, not only for the activities they offer but for those who desire (and even need) quiet while studying, researching, or even contemplating. And we mustn’t forget about all those tomes carefully placed on wide, tall shelves waiting to be plucked, checked out, and read at home.
Communities need them, not only for the activities they offer but for those who desire (and even need) quiet while studying, researching, or even contemplating.
I adored visiting the library in my youth. I will never forget how I felt when passing through the enormous doors of the grandiose building, a building filled with stories I loved nestled next to those I had yet to love.
The librarians and teachers of that time instilled in me and my classmates a love of reading. It wasn’t hard to understand even then that everyone deserved a quiet (well, as quiet as possible—darn those squeaky floorboards!) place to read, to learn, to contemplate, and to gather up those stories not yet read.
Feature image by Joe Ravi CC-BY-SA 3.0
Lady with megaphone the png from pngtree.com/
Kids in library photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash
Contemplating girl Business photo created by tirachardz – www.freepik.com
Young girls on floor in library image by qiangxuer from Pixabay