(Semi) Grumpy Monday

Not long ago, I had some conversations about how the public libraries have changed. (I even mentioned it in a post about the vision for a Writer’s Salon here in the Bradenton and Sarasota area.) I remember when I was younger, libraries were 95% quiet zones with 5% of the area (a smallish children’s section where we were still taught to be quiet, but the rules were a little more relaxed) where things were maybe a little noisier.

This is how I have felt after recent trips to several different libraries. What happened to the quiet places to read, write, and research?

The focus for libraries, now, seems to be on providing internet access, activities, and newspaper/periodical access. There is very little “quiet” space for research or writing. What quiet space there is (at least in the local, main branch library) is uncomfortable and run down and it is open to the loud and bustling internet access area. In many branches, there is no isolated space at all.

When I visited the local branch of the public library last Friday, I was expecting to go in and pick up two books I had reserved, then head elsewhere to write for the morning. One of the books, however, was still in transit from another branch. The very helpfull desk clerk (Question: How many library workers are actually librarians, these days?) said the delivery driver would be along any minute, so I decided to wait, rather than make another trip.

The library was relatively quiet and not busy. School is still in session, a majority of the Snow Birds have migrated north for the summer, and the morning rain was keeping other folks indoors. It seemed like I would be able to work.

Here’s the thing: Even people who should remember the more draconian days of shushing, stern librarians tend to treat the modern library like the lobby of a busy, metropolitan hotel. Phones were ringing–loudly, because the phone’s owner may be several stages into age-related hearing loss. Conversations were held as if the drinks and appetizers would be served shortly. One gentleman waiting for his wife was humming a tune.

This was the white noise I could deal with (mostly) but then the real assault on my peacefulness began. One man grabbed a stack of newspapers and took up residence next to me at the table where I was writing away, even though were three other, empty tables at which he could have been seated. He proceeded to unfold the papers so that I felt like I was taking up too much of the table top–me, with my legal pad and paper-back book. After he was gone, two different people walked past and absent-mindedly rapped their knuckles on the table as they went by. Another man grabbed a golf magazine from the periodicals rack, slammed it down on the table (I am not exaggerating this fact), bumped the table when he sat down, and then slammed the chair back into the table again when he left.

I know. This is a grumpy Monday post.

But occasionally it seems okay to rant, just a bit. Is it just me, or is this lack of library decorum more and more prevalent these days? Is it unreasonable to desire a place to write in relative peace and research in quiet?  Just a “clean, well-lighted place” you know?

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One thought on “(Semi) Grumpy Monday

  1. Where I am, there are lots of “little” libraries. I say that because my hometown (which is about the size of one “subarea” of the county I’m in) had one massive library. Two stories, gigantic rows of books. Books were most of the library. I know there were some carols, and desks, tables, and other nooks. I’m not sure about it now because they expanded it a few years back.

    Here the libraries are all (that I’ve seen) one story and I would guess hold fewer books than the Barnes & Nobel. The computers are central at the newest branch (where I usually go). There is a “quiet study room,” but it doesn’t seat many and I *think* it’s mostly computer desks. There is a conferency room (there was a kids program in there once), and a couple of “group study rooms” that can NOT be used by individuals (seriously? even if there’s nobody else who wants to use them?). I used to go there to write, but on weekends, I’d often not be able to get a table (maybe a plush chair with mini-table.

    As for noise, they are certainly louder. Now, I do spend more time in the kids’ section, and parents do still try to keep them relatively quiet. But my experience is not dissimilar to yours. Often, it’s the parents (repeating for the 50th time to use “inside voices”) who are the most respectful. Some people play music on the computers while they work and have it so loud I can hear it 20 feet away (not clearly, but annoyingly).

    I think if they filled them back up with tall stacks of books, it’d be quieter. Books make great sound-absorbers and those really tall stacks keep sound from traveling. However, it doesn’t help that when I ask a question, the librarian/staff member often chirps along in a “hey I haven’t seen you this month!” kind of voice.

    I want the strict old librarians back.

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