Last week I received an e-mail from Ellen via this blog asking me about why libraries have become so noisy lately. Here’s the original e-mail:
Would you please help me understand why Libraries have been allowed to become so noisy?
When I have asked our librarian this question she said allowing people to talk makes the library a more friendly and inviting place. Helloooooo, isn’t that what cafes, restaurants, deli’s and park benches allow?
I understand the library can get noisy when story hour ends. The first teachers-parents-should teach the child to be quiet. If the parent doesn’t do that then the librarian should step in.
I go to the Library for a quiet work environment removed from my home and its responsibilities. It is a safe haven for me. I think about some of the teenagers in my community who come to the library in order to study in the quiet. The teens are part of new blended families which have produced younger siblings. It’s too noisy at home to study for final exams. These teens need a quiet environment. Why doesn’t the library want to offer that anymore. Why has the rule "Quiet in the library" become such a bad thing?
Having more than enough to say myself on the subject I figured it might be more interesting to open the question up for general comment. So, I asked for permission to post her questions here. Her response was positive, to say the least, and she provided some additional conversational fodder:
Thank you for asking my permission; and yes I would be THRILLED to find out what is going on in Libraries outside my area. I even checked the NY Public Library site; but there was nothing specific to talking.
What is ironic to me is that cell phone use is prohibited in our library. It is considered disruptive; but talk isn’t! My neighbor thinks that talking is allowed less as a way to make the library ‘user friendly’ and more about librarians and counter staff not wanting to have to get the spine to say "Be quiet, respect the rule or leave.".
Good luck. I can’t wait to see what you find out!
Those that know me and long-time readers of this blog know my feelings about cell phones in libraries. Simply put, I think that banning the phones isn’t the solution, it’s banning the bad behavior on those phones that’s more of a long-term solution. However, that doesn’t necessarily address her concerns.
So, librarian peeps, what say you?
35 Replies to “Questions about noisy libraries”
I work at an academic library and we’ve designated one entire floor as the talking floor. The reasons? 1) More and more students were coming in to do group work 2) More and more students were looking for a place on campus to catch up with their friends 3) We were spending more time/energy/effort asking people to be quiet than was worth it. And by that I mean it took us away from helping people with their questions and doing our jobs. We still ask people to be quiet on the other two floors and monitor the noise level on the non quiet floor.
My other quick thoughts: Lack of “spine” is not an issue for librarians. Instead I think it’s having to adjust to the fact that we have to have people to stay open and get funding. No longer are people just giving the library money, because it’s the library. Instead they have to be many things to many different people in order to continue getting what funds they do get.
Libraries are trying to function more and more as a learning commons, taking into consideration that not all people learn in the same way. Lots of people need background noise, or learn best by discussing things with others; would you deny those teens who need to study for finals in hectic homes the opportunity to dialog with others in their class? I see no problem with having discussions in the library and allowing people to talk above a whisper. I would rather have people excited to be in the library than never come in.
I’m reminded of my local library’s solution: the first floor is a “talking area” where the children’s room is located, along with periodicals, music, and the teen room. Upstairs, among the majority of the circulating books, the computers, the reference materials, and the reference desk, is a “quiet area” where cell phones must be on vibrate or silent, and talking above a whisper is prohibited. This seems like an elegant solution to the problem, and if patrons require a 100% quiet environment then I don’t think the library is really the place to come. As we librarians try to transition with the change in our patrons, we move into their spaces, and their spaces are not silent.
I think that the long-standing silence in libraries was first broken by the photocopiers coming onto the floor. Photocopiers, printers, and computers with case fans really raise the level of white noise in the building. We need these machines to do library work, but they almost force us to talk in a normal tone of voice just to be heard over them. A few times at work when the power has gone out, patrons have remarked to me about how quiet the library has suddenly become, and I share with them my theory about the noisy machines.
Of course, white noise isn’t the only change. We librarians have altered our expectations when it comes to noise level. A group of 20 excited kids pouring out of story time into the stacks to look for books cannot possibly be silent. Its just not human nature to be completely quiet when you’re that happy. We let them express their joy in the books they find, hoping they’ll keep reading because that’s their key to the future. Somewhere along the line, librarians decided that we’re willing to trade 20 minutes of hubbub if that means our kids are on the road to literacy.
Larger buildings give us a lot more options for offering talking and silent study spaces than small neighborhood branches. I work in a large public library where there isn’t a designated quiet floor, but we have a couple areas off in the stacks where people can go if they want to have a group study session or if they’re looking to get away from the noise of the desk area. When I worked at a branch, though, there was literally nowhere to go to get away from the post-story time noise. We could only reassure everyone after story time that it would be much quieter in just a few minutes.
We do understand that we’re trying to balance two opposing needs, though. In my library, we actively work to keep the talking to a reasonable level and we will ask folks to keep it down or perhaps move to a different spot in the building if it’s truly disruptive to others. And if the disruption continues after we ask nicely, we will eventually ask the people causing excessive noise to leave the building. Personally, I feel like we’ve failed whenever I have to ask someone to leave. After all, the library is supposed to be there for everyone. We do our best, but sometimes it’s not possible to reconcile the differences 100% given the size & layouts of the buildings and the number of people there at one time.
Hope these slightly jumbled & rambling thoughts help!
Aurora (C0) Libraries are adding more study rooms, which can be used for group work or for quiet space. I think that you will find many libraries are doing this. If you cannot concentrate without total quiet, ask a librarian where to find a study room or the quietest place in the building. I admit that study habits have changed over the generations, with our young adults working well in noisier areas. Libraries are for the whole community, not just those of us who work best in silence. After a story hour, when children are processing the experience, it should be exciting to see them loving to be at the library. Try to be content with the evolution of libraries, while gently asking where the best space for your type of work habits can be found. Also, many academic libraries are open to the public, and may offer the environment you need.
Your input has given me more to think about already!
Andrew, your having an entire floor in the library designated as a talking floor with the other two floors designated as quiet ones does address the issue in a way that seems to meet the needs of the patrons in your library.
Theresa, yes there are a variety of learning styles, including one that does best in a quiet environment. I don’t think incorporating new influences in library protocol/rules (talking/cell phone use) needs to equal the elimination of traditional protocol/rules (quiet/no cell phone use). Both of your blogs include references to multi-floored libraries which makes it much easier to address a variety of patron needs. I am in a community which has a single story library. I will be interested to hear what other single floor libraries are doing to address talking in the library when patrons are seeking quiet.
Amanda, that was not a rambling thought stream at all. You touched on a lot of things for me to think about.
It is exciting Kathy to hear kids coming out of story hour. Talking is part of the experience for them. When I read my question again I see that it was written as though the story hour crowd was a problem. I agree the story hour crowd is a transition group and things do settle down. You have given me much to think about regarding children and libraries. At this point though, I still think it is a good practice for parents to have their child speak quietly in the library (apart from the storytime group). To be considerate of others isn’t a bad lesson to learn. A library is (was?) a good place to use a “quiet voice”. That is an interesting point about the copy machine and noise.
Interesting post; to add my experience at UC Berkeley, in the Heyns Reading Room and North Reading Room (Floor 2) provide over 400 seats – all of which can be booked through a sophisticated ebooking system online – at large study tables and a handful of comfy chairs in a beautiful setting. Study room reservations can be made up to 7 days in advance. Any reservation not claimed within the first 15 minutes will be made available to others. There are 4 large study rooms which can seat 8-10 people, and 13 small rooms which can seat 4-5 people. Each room has a chalkboard and receives an AirBears signal. I’m sure there can be improvements, but design of these rooms remains so important. Katie
My comment consists of the website that I wrote to address this issue specifically:
Today I was trying to read at our local library in peace and quiet. Instead, I had to endure roudy, unruly children PLUS several ladies having a loud conversation just like they were in the park or a noisy restaurant! I listened to this hoopla for a while until I just couldn’t stand it any longer! I went to the desk to complain to one of the clerks. She leaned over the counter and tried to calm me by saying “Oh, some of them are with the geneological society and they’re hard of hearing!” WHAT…ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? So that gives them the right to disturb the QUIET PATRONS???? I told her I’ll be contacting the library supervisor on Monday! Children should also be taught to be quiet in libraries! Back in my day, that’s what WE were taught and the rule was strictly enforced. That’s just BS that kids need a healthy excitement after story hour! They can be quiet like we were. The teachers and parents need to have some control and teach kids that they don’t need to run their mouths all the time! The elderly loud people were just plain RUDE! You’d think the library is the corner cafe or MacDonald’s! If librarians are afraid of losing support in the election for the levy if they tell people to hush, they’ve already lost MY VOTE! Since the library is too noisy anyway, I won’t even use it anymore. Plus, I’ll vote the levy down in the next election. If they lose their jobs, maybe the light will finally come on!
I’m a Senior Citizen. I got my first library card when I was 5 years old when there were strict rules about talking in the library. Reading has always been my favorite leisure activity and I’ve always loved the library. I use the computers for research, browse through the new books on the shelves, and read books and the latest magazines. And I REALLY HATE how noisy the library has become. My local library has a children’s section and the small children and teen-agers don’t bother me. Adults are the worst offenders when it comes to the noise in the library. Phones are constantly beeping or ringing with loud cutesy tones, people sitting next to me or near me have really loud conversations on their cell phones, some rattle bags and munch and crunch on food while eating, others sleep and snore, and then there are the people who see an acquaintance and stop to “catch up” in a loud voice. The people talking on the phones and the ones “catching up” talk loudly about everything under the sun, none of which I (or other people) want to hear. A lot of the conversations are extremely personal, very vulgar, and at times involve a lot of swearing. People sit next to me at the computers and sing along with the music they are listening to, and drum and thump on the tables to the beat of the music. They listen to music with the volume so high, I can hear it outside their headphones. If I ask someone to lower their voice or to stop thumping on the table, I get insulted. If I don’t say anything and go directly to the staff for intervention , then the loud, inappropriate person wants to know why I didn’t “just ask them”. I’ve read several articles that claim it’s “good” for kids to learn in noisy environments. As former social worker and educator I don’t agree. But, the noise I’m talking about in the library isn’t occurring during learning and it’s not about learning. It seems that a lot of people want to be noticed , envied, admired and they want this from the world in general, not just their families and/or loved ones who are the people who usually give us this kind of validation. And what I’ve just described happens in a lot of libraries, not just my local branch. And yes, I visit several libraries to attend lectures and other events.
In fact, many of the librarians and other staffers themselves, are very noisy. They don’t take care to speak softly and frequently lack discretion during information requests. Next, it’s the patrons who regularly forget that the library should be a more settled and quiet space and are noisy especially those with young children. Unfortunately, it has become a challenge using the library…due to these many distractions. It would be practiced and understood that all patrons including those with little ones use whisper voices such as is very possible, practical to do, yes, even in study groups. It would also be great if friendly reminders …signs were placed throughout.
I’m in a library right now and that’s why i looked this up. The librarians are loud, and they’re gossiping with the guests. How rude.
same, alice, i’m in the silent study area right now and not only are some librarians gobbing but some other people are practically yelling at each other about their wild night out like i don’t care if it makes the library a less welcoming environment i come here to study
I looked this up as I was studying in a noisy academic library where the ones making the noise were those in charge of the library. I guess it’s become routine to flaunt oneself in the library and to make one’s presence felt to others. Almost like a status symbol. Being spotted in a library has become something like being seen in a posh club or a fancy place. And when you ask people to tone down a bit, they say they are just speaking in low tones. but increase the number of low tones and you have a very irritating humming !
The last straw for me was when the library sponsored an event in the reading section on “The History of Drums,” yes drums! My husband and I looked at each other with our mouths on the floor. We couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
I looked this subject up (noisy libraries) because I work at one. Gone are the days of quiet libraries, of course, there are a few that still adhere to the standard library rules. We have a childrens storytime one day a week but everyday seems to be like a storytime day. Between cell phones (although there are signs posted of no cell phone use – yea right!), parents who have NO control over their kids, hard of hearing elderly folks, and the God almighty computer …library is more like a social club. Even our employees have complained to management and you know what was said about that? The response was, we have childrens programs so we have to expect some noise. BS. The program is not everyday! Needless to say, I am currently in the process of changing professions. I love the library work but I cannot tolerate the fact it is suppose to be a quiet place but has turned into more of a recreation center/social club.
Loud libraries are a particular issue for kids coming from difficult to outright dangerous homes. There is simply no way kids can study effectively when they fear for their own safety or the surrounding area is too loud.
Some teachers have allowed students to study in classrooms after hours but this means the teacher must stay to lock up after the students leave.
I love libraries but I do not like how loud they have become.
My community college library is too loud, most students don’t know how to be quiet in a library.
When I complained to my library supervisor about the excessive noise, she told me it “was a sign of the times” and libraries are considered to be community centers where patrons can do as they wish. Geesh. Not even a “quiet please” sign.
I am a librarian and sometime my library is noisy due to students talking and they sound like bees. Like, I will really have a headache listening to them. Now, I know that this problem exist due to lack of student lounges. Students are going inside the library and doing the non essentials things like talking to each other and just sitting there. Now other students are complaining because of the noise but the management continues to ignore this problem and they want a short term solution like, list down their names and gives sanctions and its just a cycle. It’s useless. They’re not helping…geeezz.
I was lucky at my university. People held the silence rule and the quite rule sacred. In the main library, every floor above the second had several sound proof rooms for reservation whenever study groups needed them. The departmental libraries were filled with folk that practiced patience and focus.
There are two obnoxious kids next to me playing checkers and they are LOUD. I just shushed them up but they are back at it. The librarians will not react, the mother doesn’t give a damn. It is a shame.
And the adults do have their cell phones cranked up and insist on subjecting us to ‘half conversations’. I pay taxes damn it and I sound like my father, oh no! and Damnit!
We all deserve some respect. Build a communty center or let them deal with the-dare I say it? The great outdoors.
Community center. I was a bit rattled. Sorry.
What is going on in this library is groups of teachers and their students laughing and talking all around the library. This has gone on since 2p.m. and will last until closing at 8 p.m. This goes on every day and I am sick of it. But tonight I saw the last straw….These teachers (tutors) are getting paid after each student, so they are using the library to run their business! This does it for me. I wish I new where to get something done about this!
I work in a special library, so we mostly have adults. We don’t ban cell phones, because sometimes you need to ask a quick question of someone when researching, but we do try to keep the noise level quiet to moderate. Sometimes, different people have different perspectives about what is loud, so if someone seems heading that direction, I try to keep an eye on others in the area, to see if they’re bothered. It’s a balancing act, and we don’t always get it right, but we try.
We’re also in a new building. It’s gorgeous and I love it, but one of my very few complaints is how loud it is. Noise carries, even from outside the library (we share the facility) and there really isn’t a space to get away from it; either to get away from the noise, or to make noise without bothering others.
I am so very thankful for my library community. I am able to read best seller books, use the internet for job searches and have found work, and to go there as a slight getaway from a noisy home butted up against noisy neighbors. However, a few years ago I noticed that the library environment was changing. It was becoming more noisy with very loud conversations taking place between librarians and of course the noise mentioned in all previous comments. As much as we talk about embracing a new future for libraries and creating a learning environment for those who are used to noise and maybe need the stimulation to study or work. Please understand that there are those of us who are type B personalities. We work very well in quiet areas and quite like to read in a quiet environment. I used to go to the library for this, but all of the library branches I sought out have changed their policy to allow for a rowdy environment. I once went to a library where children could actually check out toys, like mini drums and cymbals, and of course we have to be super sensitive to them and allow them to express themselves with the toys and let them sing to their hearts content. I watched and heard in awe and disappointment and then left. I think type B personalities are being more and more pushed out of an ever increasing loud world. I believe children should be taught to be quiet, respectful, and use their quiet voice in appropriate settings like the library. It’s a lesson on how to work in a world filled with different personalities. It’s not asking to be quiet 24/7 365, but a lesson for a more broad sense of the world and to appreciate quiet spaces, respect, and public conduct. However, reading the comments posted by librarians, I think I am once again out numbered and unappreciated as a type B personality. Although I still go to the library, and there are moments when it is quiet, but those moments are few and far between. At this point my use of the library entails me picking up my holds and leaving. Or if i need to work on the computer I bring ear plugs. On a side note, I did visit an academic library and was amazed at the pick up scene :). I am
still seeking my quiet library that fosters reading and intellectual stimulation rather than decibel stimulation.
Use anoice level meter app to measure noise in there libraries.
I also can’t get a piece of my mind in this noisy libraries. Something needs to be done.
Libraries are the last hope for a quiet spot to use your mind. Want to chat? Go to a cafe. Want your kids to learn? Teach them respect: a libraries are NOT bloody daycare. There are so many other places to exercise your “right” to talk, debate, play, or associate. The library was designed to give someone (now all becoming a damn refugee from festivals, noisy outdoor venues, loud bars et al forced on us ad nauseum) a non-distracting place to relax and read. Why are all the civilized, sensible rationales hurled away and replaced with inane “one size fits all” frenzied compromises?
I don’t have internet at home and have to use the library for my job search. I’m very grateful to be able to use the computer, but try putting together a resume and cover letter while the guy next to you is cursing his computer monitor while he plays games. I’ve complained and been told they are trying to make the library a more welcoming place and more like a bookstore. I told them my local Barnes & Noble is quieter than the library. I am not suggesting stone cold silence, but why are all kinds of programs allowed to happen next to the computer area and the reading materials? There are a number of private rooms and I’ve attended a lot of programs and concerts in them. There’s no place for the person who just wants to read and work in quiet in today’s library.
I concur with Donna Riley and Ion Muntean.
My local library provides my access to email and books and private study.
It is heartbreaking that I am now frequently disturbed by the offspring of those who seem to think the building is for free childminding, or their private office replete with mobile phone &/or those cursing the computer monitor.
That said, in contrast with an earlier comment, I think the “private” room might be where the noisy folk should be told to go – to act as if they were in an extension to their own homes and can do what they like – with the rest of the library reserved for the quiet folk who know how it is supposed to be used!
I’m a librarian in a private institution here in Singapore and unfortunately the higher ups have fallen in love with the concept of an open door policy of some of our bigger libraries, so our library had a makeover to accommodate this vision of theirs. There are many places for people to do their studies in the campus where you could talk with ease and have food and drink as well, but alas, they choose to do this in our library. We have “progressed” to the point of not being anything but a library. I really do feel sorry for more of our serious users, who come here after work to do some quiet study and finding out that it’s not as conducive as they had imagined. I feel more like a policeman or a traffic summons officer, trying to keep everything in order and as conducive as possible and know that I am hated for it (far away from my childhood image of librarians being respected as the ‘Guardians of knowledge’). Anyway, when it comes to talking, as long it’s within low volumes and us librarians can’t hear it, then it is ok. The worst case scenarios are when users hang out and have a laugh instead of doing research or studying. We would point towards the study room where normal discussion or group discussion is allowed if they wish to continue. I do feel that the traditional image of the library (quiet, sacred spaces of knowledge) will slowly die out, as keeping libraries alive (we need the funds) trumps keeping it special. Please do book your local library’s study rooms or quiet rooms if you wish to have quiet, uninterrupted study.
I work in a medium-sized, single story, public library and it gets moderately noisy. There are so many contributors to the noise level and the problems surrounding it, but what I’ve found is that it is the on-going noise (conversations, music through the headphones, tablets with the volume on, crying babies) that most people object to and that kind of noise we try to keep under control.
But Freya is right – it is a balance and sometimes one side is happier than the other. Our rules say nothing about talking, but they do say patrons cannot disturb other patrons. Unfortunately, by the time a patron is disturbed enough to say something, they are often frustrated, too. I’ve had patrons gripe at me for not controlling the noise and I’ve had patrons gripe at me for asking them to be quieter – a couple times in the same incident. Nevertheless, that general “hub-bub” noise is nearly impossible to control – signs don’t work and sometimes even asking the people (especially kids) to be quieter doesn’t work regardless of what the people who want the librarian to “do something about it” think. A librarian where I used to work loudly announced that everyone in the library needed to be quieter. That lasted about 10 minutes. And one afternoon a patron took it upon herself to deal with the noise and yelled at the patron sitting next to her to “shut the f**k up!” That worked. : ) The library was silent, temporarily.
AH! I just left a comment (it’s not showing up though) where I state my hypothesis that what amounts to propaganda by the American Library Association is, by design, intended to destabilize society, one of countless systems the monied few have their hands in. And seconds later, I came across this thread, stating precisely that in this case, it’s google who’s the specific perpetrator: https://twitter.com/matthewstoller/status/1072489825557770240
Oh, how I long for peace and quiet. I find the world so noisy; motorcycles, cell phones, barking, back up beepers, car alarms, and such. I really miss the quiet library that seems to have gone extinct. ‘No running.’ ‘No yelling,’ clearly stated in library’s rules and policies section, but when I ask a librarian to say something to the kids who are running and yelling? I’ve been told, by more than one librarian; ‘Libraries aren’t the quiet places they used to be. And we don’t want to make kids not like coming to the library.’ Guess it’s okay that some adults don’t want to come if they’re going to sound like playgrounds. Cell phones are supposed to be on silent ringing mode – nearly every time I hear them ringing around me numerous times. I’ve stopped pointing out to folks the library policy is they’re supposed to be silenced, as I just get glared at and when it rings again, it just gets me more frustrated. Then there’s the nearly non stop ‘BEEP’ ‘BEEP’ ‘BEEP’ whenever a book is checked in or out? Some of them even offer music concerts. A few have quiet rooms, but they’re usually occupied. Why can’t they instead have ‘noise’ rooms and if you want to make noise, you use those rooms, hopefully which have been soundproofed. As I age, I see younger and younger library staff, and they grew up with cell phones, and non quiet libraries, so they see/hear nothing wrong.
The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
It’s common sense to have a “ Quiet in the library policy”.
But there is none.
The kids are mostly on games now.
No one cares about students and others wanting to study.
It takes a librarian with spine to ask for quiet… but there is no policy supporting them.
I recently complained about the noise level. I said one of your staff members yells across the room without regard for people trying to work at the bank of computers. I asked for her to use her indoor voice.
There are two sides to the library. The children’s activities are now in the middle of the previous grown up area. People come into the library and let their kids run rampant. A two year old climbed up on the computer table where I was working and started screaming. I did not go there to babysit.
The head librarian said it was like a community center now. I said it still says library on the sign outside. They are taking away my service by not allowing a place for quiet when it’s needed. Two makeshift quiet rooms are on the kids side. Right! You can hear everything. They are not completely enclosed.
I told her I was not going to continue to pay taxes for a service that does not exist. She blamed it on close quarters. It can be managed a lot better. The kids don’t even pick up a book. They have a toy box. They run around like it’s daycare.
I am mad and disappointed that it has been allowed to go this route. If there is a need for community service locations, why not use school facilities? They are empty after hours I pay tons of taxes for those, too.
I tried a different location a week ago. There were 12 computers. 10 of them were being used by children u see the age of 14 at one time. It was a Sat afternoon. Parents were nowhere to be found. They send them to the library to be babysat. A fight broke out between some younger boys on the other end of where I was working. Millennial librarians did nothing. I walked down and said I would get them thrown out if they didn’t stop. They also ate Doritos at the computer, left their trash, and dirtied up the keyboards.
They’re just playing video games. Not working at all. I’ve decided that the next time a Library levy goes up for a vote. I will survey the community and start a petition against it. I’ve seen so many adults come in and sit down to work on something like a resume, job application or other important project. After a couple of minutes, they pack up and leave disgusted.
As a kid. I used to love hanging out at the library during summer. I would randomly pull books from the shelves and start reading. It was so inspiring. All that knowledge. I don’t call these places libraries anymore. Sad to say.
I’m all for progress, just make sure you don’t take away from my experience.