Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

The Library is Not for Studying

Over the years there have been lots of calls to make libraries into something other than libraries. That’s especially true of public libraries, but even librarians in academic libraries sometimes want to change things up, to turn libraries from a silent haven for research into community centers or places to play video games.

In some ways it’s understandable. The most likely people to be bored with libraries are the librarians who have to work in them every day. They show up, day after day, and perform the same tedious functions.

After a while, they get jaded. The library is a boring place for them, and they want to make it hip or relevant or something like that. Most of all, they want action.

And what they’re most trying to fight against is the stereotype of the shushing librarian. We don’t shush!

It turns out that in some libraries there is a group that yearns for a shushing librarian: the patrons of the library.

Check out this story from Cerritos College, a community college in California: ‘Shhhhh': Noise an issue in library, Student Center.

It seems that both the library and the student center have become so noisy that even students are complaining, and it’s the complaining students who are probably the better students.

Sure, other students are making the noise, but they’re making so much noise that students can’t find quiet places to study. Librarians who want to change the culture of libraries sometimes forget that quiet study is how successful college students spend a lot of their time.

One would expect some noise in the student center, but one would also expect some quiet study spaces in a well designed one. Not so much here, it seems.

“They’re in here all day just doing really dumb stuff. There’s this (woman) who comes in here; she’s just here for hours with a group, and she’s just always screaming; each time she sees a new person, she’s just screaming.

That’s got to be annoying. So why not go to the library?

“I don’t like to go to the library because I just feel that it’s a lot more packed in there.”

Packed, and apparently still noisy.

“I often hear the librarians, over the speaker, telling the students to be quiet; that people need to study and concentrate. Then, you would hear it get quiet for a little bit, and then it will get loud again.

“Some people just want to joke and be with their friends, but that area is a place to be serious, and if you want to laugh, you should go outside.”

That last bit is probably good advice the noisemakers won’t take. It’s a lot easier to hang out and make noise than study, after all. And it must be easier to make noise than use computers, because even in the computer room there are noise problems.

At some point next year, there’s supposed to be a solution of sorts.

“”According to the librarian, a glass wall will be put up by next summer or next fall, dividing up the library into two parts – a “group, chatty side, and the other would be enforced to the more quiet, serious study side.”

It seems to me that’s not much of a solution. There’s already a “group, chatty” place on campus, the student center. Creating a chatty side of the library will just reduce the seating for students who want “serious study.”

I’ve walked around a lot of academic libraries in my day. Most of them have been quiet except for maybe the circulation or reference areas, sometimes disconcertingly so, and that seems to be how the students want it.

It’s one thing to adapt public libraries to community changes is there’s no longer a need for quiet spaces for reading or contemplation, although I doubt that need ever goes away.

It’s another to think of college libraries as something other than quiet places for study. It’s possible that the students have no quiet places at home or work, and most public spaces are noisy.

Cerritos students are probably no different from serious students everywhere, the ones who go to the library to escape other people, to escape the constant hum and bustle of every other public space, the ones who search out the remotest areas of the library and find comfort in that study desk buried in the middle of the stacks that nobody else seems to know about.

That’s what students want and what they need, regardless of how boring the whole situation is for librarians.

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Comments

  1. The case of the Cerritos library sounds like a worst case scenario. We have three floors where I work with designated noise levels; the first floor, and busiest area, is the talking floor for group work, the second is a whisper floor, and third, complete silence. Many students express a need for some level of noise in order to work well individually. While libraries will always need silent study space for academic pursuits, I firmly believe that a well-designed library can accommodate a learning commons/student center as well. But that’s the crux. It needs to be designed well.

  2. It would seem like Cerritos library has a problem. Silent study areas are important in libraries, especially school libraries. That doesn’t mean group, chatty areas don’t have their place. Group work and group study are a large part of school and often the best place for these groups is the library. It’s not because a student is studying or working with a group that they are any less serious.

  3. Soren Faust says:

    I was at the Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins U, the other day studying for a class and was shhhh’d.. by a librarian for talking with another student literally 2 feet outside of the decreed talking zone. Apparently, JHU has yet to be converted to establishing the game room environment other libraries are moving toward. I work as a librarian at the Pratt library and it has indeed become a game room. They even have daily pick up chess matches in the medical section. The regulars who play act more like they are in the city park than in a library. Patrons do complain, but they’re ignored because they are out of touch, I suppose.

  4. Do they realize what poor noise reduction coefficient values or NRC values are associated with glass walls? If that’s the solution the problem will continue, sound masking can only do so much.

  5. The annoyed librarian is two people, perhaps more.

  6. The idea that quiet library space has somehow outlived its usefulness, is on a par with the idea that books are growing obsolete. No matter how many ignorant people repeat these notions, they will never become true unless librarians take the bait and make them self-fulfilling prophecies. Librarians need to stand up and reject the notion that there is somehow something wrong when a librarian asks a loud patron to keep the volume down. The students who appreciate the “shushing librarians” are the most hard-working students – the ones the library should be trying to cater to. Instead, their voices get drowned out by those who think the library should burn its books and become a big communal meeting place. I’m fine with Information Commons-type areas if there is sufficient quiet study areas, but once the former start to encroach on the latter, we need to put our foot down.

  7. notutopianlibrarian says:

    “The students who appreciate the “shushing librarians” are the most hard-working students – the ones the library should be trying to cater to. Instead, their voices get drowned out by those who think the library should burn its books and become a big communal meeting place.”

    Sounds as reasonable as the idea of restricting non-residents from attending programs, etc. What’s that about reaping what one sows?

  8. At my undergraduate library there were 3 floors; the middle one (which had the reference desk and the circulation desk) as the one that was used for group studying and talking. The top floor was the quiet floor, and the one where the stacks were. The bottom floor wasn’t necessarily enforced as quiet, but generally was because it was mostly classrooms and library offices, etc. I don’t think there were a lot of problems keeping the third floor quiet….. it was a pretty well accepted custom.

  9. “Over the years there have been lots of calls to make libraries into something other than libraries. That’s especially true of public libraries, but even librarians in academic libraries sometimes want to change things up, to turn libraries” … Here in Italy librarians changed libraries. Books and readers are not important … I hope you can read italian:
    Games against books:
    http://libroinbiblioteca.blogspot.it/2014/04/leggere-leggersi-con-consapevolezza.html
    “De Bibliothecarum utilitate oratio (1609 – 2014)”:
    http://libroinbiblioteca.blogspot.it/2014/02/bibliothecarum-utilitate-oratio-1609.html
    Librarians against readers and law:
    http://bibliothecae.it/index.php?content=pagina&page=51

    Thanks.
    Dino (I’m not a librarian).
    Florence – Tuscany – Italy – eu.
    dinosimone@virgilio.it

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