Monday, February 06, 2012

Here Come the Rules Police - silence in the library please

quietzone Here Come the Rules Police | From the Bell Tower
One of my job responsibilities is to review all suggestions and comments about the library. There’s no complaint window at my office, exactly, but you get the general idea.
A common request is to create more library spaces dedicated to quiet study, and our administration has been responsive. Like many academic library buildings there are zones for either noise-free or noise-tolerant study. Instead of posting “please be quiet” signs all over the place, we went for something a tad more bold (see above). You’d think it would communicate the message–but what should work well in theory is sometimes less effective in practice.
More recently, students have grown more vocal in their demand for quiet–and the tone of their suggestions is getting nastier. They blame any lack of quiet on the staff, and claim that the root of the problem is our failure to enforce strict rules.
When did college students start asking administrators for more rules for campus behavior? Not only do students want library staff to get their shush on, several have even asked us to hire security guards to toss noisemakers out the door. At this rate, students will soon be calling campus police to arrest noisy study groups.
Achieving balance
No matter what you think about the role of the library in higher education, we can all agree the academic library is the one place on campus that serves as a true commons. All are welcome–and that’s where the trouble begins.

On one hand, you have the traditionalists who believe that you should be able to hear a pin drop at a library–anytime, all the time, and everywhere. Graduate students tend to fall into this category, but, increasingly, undergrads have also been seeking escape from the distractions of college life.
On the other hand, you have the modernists, for whom the library is the place to see and be seen. These folks prefer to chat as they work in groups, or even strategize on their weekend plans.
Think of these two groups as oil and water; never shall they mix. But when they do… look out. The academic librarian’s dilemma is how to keep the peace between the groups by achieving some degree of balance. Despite our efforts, lack of civility disrupts the fragile harmony.
Full story at the Library Journal


Mark Hubbard said...

Oh dear. This is a step too far. Pursuant to these definitions, there's no place for modernists in libraries.

Such groups can organise their social lives, dates, whatever, in cafes, on sidewalks, or basically anywhere outside libraries. Whereas libraries are the one single place where an individual should be able to have peace and quiet.

It's a complete no-brainer.

It's as obvious as people who don't turn off cell phones in movie theatres or restaurants are ignorant brutes who don't deserve the fellowship of civilised people.

In summation: in a library I don't want 'balance'; what rot. I want glorious silence because that has become the rarest commodity of all, and a library should be the one place it can be expected as of right, until the end of times – which seem to be coming faster all the while.

Claire at Latitude said...

The issue of noise is less clear cut in public libraries, which cater for a diverse range of interests, than in academic ones, which are the focus of Steven Bell's article. I agree that it is important to be able to find a quiet place in a library - but if you want public libraries to be silent throughout and at all times, you may be wise to choose noise cancellation headphones.

Noise is not new, either (see my latest post at, though cellphones seem to bring it to our attention. The inappropriate use of cellphones is relatively recent, however, and more about rudeness than noise - and it happens in many places, not just libraries.