At my library, the patrons are often more protective of quiet than we librarians are. There is one woman who seems particularly bothered by even the quietest of conversations. She will frequently come up to me to ask, “Is talking allowed in this library?” or “Are cell phones allowed in this library?” Each time I tell her, “Yes, quiet conversations are allowed in the library” and point out our two silent rooms, where talking is not allowed.
Modern librarians are often reluctant shushers. We want people to think we’re fun. We want libraries to be vibrant, energy-filled buildings. We hope to shake off the dusty book mausoleum image and usher ourselves into the 21st century as more of a party institution. And most importantly maybe, we want the people who have not felt welcomed by the sternly guarded quiet of yesteryear to COME TO THE LIBRARY.
But many of our hardcore patrons want hallowed silence. They want to consume their dusty books in uninterrupted peace. They are studying, or concentrating, or contemplative, or sometimes just generally mysanthropic.
This conflict reminds me of what I’ve read about the silent cars on the New York/New Jersey train. The piece I’m thinking of was in the New Yorker a few years ago, but that’s behind a paywall. Here’s some discussion of them in the New York Times.
My library is lucky enough to have not one but two quiet rooms (one with screens, one without). We have an accommodation we can point out to these folks. Sometimes though, this still is not enough. They want to use a library computer, for example, or the quiet room is full, or they are just offended by the notion that there is a sound or a cell phone in the library.
So what do you do to resolve these conflicts? An invitation to the world? Ask them to suck it up? Silence the offenders?
This is kind of a key image issue. There has recently been a lot of talk about What Librarians Look Like, but maybe a more important question for our users is “What do libraries sound like?” How do we create a new image, and a new reality, which is friendly and inviting, which welcomes noise and participation, but which respects the needs of our silence-loving power users?