Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Whatever Happened to the Quiet Library?


I know just how Uncle Sam feels...he probably visited his local library.

If you were born in the 70s or earlier, I'm certain that you learned at an early age to be quiet and respectful in a library. I sure know that it was for me--each year in elementary school, our school librarian would pay us a visit and remind us of the rules: low voices and whispering or no talking at all; no horseplay and running through the aisles; and books were to be treated with respect (you didn't own them, after all.) Sesame Street, Mister Rogers, and The Electric Company all made the word QUIET synonymous with the building that contained the books we borrowed. The reason why is simple: people go to a library to study, concentrate, or otherwise read books in peace.

When I was in high school, there was a crotchety old librarian at the local town library that my friends and I nicknamed the Nazi Librarian, because she did not tolerate even whispering of any sort, particularly from giggly teenage girls. She also wore queer plastic sleeves to cover her arms--the reason why my friends and I never learned.

With all that in mind, I'm wondering if anyone out there--particularly a parent--could explain to me what happened to all that. Some of them treat a library like it's a daycare center. You see, I've experienced and have heard many complaints from other people about how children behave in libraries today, and it isn't pretty. I've seen it first hand with kids--not in the children's library, mind you - but the regular adult sections--screeching, screaming, throwing temper tantrums, and running rampant around bookcases and tables where people are trying to read. There's no corrections or reminders whatsoever, and some parents actually think their child's behavior is highly amusing or cute when they do this. We have a family friend who's a librarian in the children's section who has been equally appalled by what passes for acceptable behavior in a library today. And I really don't get why a library's staff can't remind people that a library is a place of respectful quiet. Is someone afraid of a lawsuit?

I don't know if this is tolerated in other countries, but it's definitely become a problem in the U.S. It's downright rude and disrespectful. If your kids can't behave properly in a quiet public place then for the love of God and respect to fellow library patrons, don't bring them. Let's put the quiet back in library.

In case anyone forgot, our friend Grover here demonstrates how to talk in a library:

16 comments:

Amy said...

That is rude, I volunteer in our tiny town library and so far I haven't seen that yet but I'm sure those who are paid librarians in bigger libraries face that issue. It's like those parents I've noticed that drop their kids off to sports events and leave and expect the coach and other parents to discipline them.

gumbo writers said...

To be honest, I think that the sanctity of the library that used to exist is now gone. People dont need to go to the library to do work or read anymore. They can sit at home alone and read by themselves. I notice the library becoming more and more of a circus social scene every day. It's really a shame but true...

Garrett said...

What nonsense. I'm a librarian and while yes, there are people whose children are out of hand or who leave their kids unattended it's hardly the scourge you seem to imply.

The library is not a place of hallowed silence, nor should it be. The days of shushing and stony quiet are good to be gone. Why should the library, a community space for people of all ages, be a tomb?

Any library worth its salt provides quiet areas for patrons who desire it and has security/staff to keep things from getting even close to rowdy.

This balderdash about the devolution of public manners is just blather.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Garrett. To put it in the words of Doug Johnson, the library media specialist, the library should be an intellectual gymnasium. The library, especially a public library, is a community center and people's university, not a graveyard. As a librarian, I'm not afraid of calling out those who disrupt but I'm not going to shush every bit of noise. Libraries and the field of librarianship are changing--deal with it.

GoRetroGirl said...

Wow, this is amazing. You stick up for people (in this case, librarians), and yet they still manage to get insulted.

Yes, the library is a place of community and I wasn't saying people shouldn't be allowed to speak in one. However that doesn't mean people, especially kids, have the right to disrupt other patrons. Garrett and Anonymous, I don't know what library(ies) you work for but if you do a search online you'll find that many post their rules of conduct, and those include that visitors must conduct themselves in a matter that doesn't bother other patrons or vandalize the furniture, and that extends to the outside of the library building as well. My library doesn't allow skateboarding in the parking lot or near the door entrance.

If the rules of conduct inside of a library are changing, where's your industry's PR? Last I heard it was supposed to be a place of respect.

You two must either be masochists who enjoy the noise or more likely, it sounds like you're both parents who are very insulted that anyone would dare imply that your kids are unruly.

One would think, with the Kindle and the Internet threatening the existence of books and taking away reasons to visit the library, that you'd be doing all that you can to attract and keep patrons (and your job security.)

GoRetroGirl said...

As just one of thousands of examples, here are the rule of conduct for the Seattle Public Library. And this policy was just adopted in July 2009:

http://www.spl.org/default.asp?pageID=about_policies_conduct

Anonymous said...

I agree with GoRetroGirl. I was at our local branch in Vancouver and one kid was screaming every 30 seconds. It sounded like a fire engine. Parents did nothing to stop it. How are people supposed to study, read, browse, listen to music? If you want to let your kids run wild go to the carnival or the local waterslides. Oh, and the same goes for those ignorant fools with the musical ring tones answering their cell phones in the library so all of us can hear of their upcoming weekend plans.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who is a parent knows that very young children can't be "controlled." (Try it sometime.) So it's actually not a "discipline" issue with very young children--it's a question of whether families with young children (who ARE going to make noise) should be allowed to visit public spaces--I'd include libraries, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. etc. etc. Interesting to consider.

I think the vitriol against babies who cry and cell phones that ring, etc, is symptomatic of a level of pain and frustration that pervades our society and finds relief in focusing on these perceived "annoyances." Sad.

Had Enough of Your Brat said...

Folks, there is no excuse , ever, for behaving like savages, trash or lunatic barbarians in public. Many of you show not the least bit of respect for others.
If you cannot or will not control your children, then keep them at home. Do not subject others to the results of your absolute failure as a parent. Your little darlings that you see as eternally innocent as in need of discipline, and that need will only increase as time passes.
Your self-imnportant attitude reminds me of the sweet, lovong mothers you see on TV now and then... "Ma'am do you have any idea as to why your son killed and dissected ten people?" "My boy is a good boy, he never hurt anyone!" "But he was wearing their heads on a chain around his neck" "That's a lie! I love my son, he don't do nothing like that!" "Ma'am, he's the one dancing behind you, shaking severed limbs around, and bathing himself in his victim's blood, isn't he?" "That's him, but he never did nothing bad to nobody. You're all just out to get him!"

Etc, etc, etc...

Coming up in reply to this, an ad hominem attack.

Pam@GoRetro said...

Had Enough of Your Brat, well said! Perfect post. Too bad you are not anonymous, you should start your own blog. It's interesting to see this post still attracting attention on the subject several months after I wrote it.

Marlene said...

Thanks for the heads up on this post! I am SO IN AGREEMENT with you, and I LOVED "Had Enough of your Brat's" comment!!!!

As far back as I remember, libraries were to be quiet places...places where people could go to study or read without having to listen to unruly kids or obnoxious adults yakkin' it up. (That's what book stores with comfy chairs are for, eh?!)

Those who complain about your point of view have a sad "entitlement" mentality, I'm afraid. Sadly, that's what I see more and more of each day.

Russell said...

Well, I certainly joined this debate long after the fact. However, as a high school teacher-librarian [MA,MEd], I think the most cogent statement made is that libraries and their uses have changed - deal with it. I liked the old silent days too. But the fact is that many teachers assign collaborative research projects for students. In order for them to function, they often have to be able to communicate verbally. Yes, there is occasionally an ass or two, but they usually calm down or just sneak out. The point is, expectations, society, and technology have changed. It doesn't mean we've succumbed to anarchy, just means things have changed - for the better in my opinion.

Pam@GoRetro said...

@Russell - the discussion here wasn't so much about mature students doing research than it is about parents with small children who treat the library like a daycare center. Of course I don't think anyone here has a problem with students and adults talking quietly in a library to work on a project. I myself used the library for that purpose many times growing up. The problem is with kids. We have a family friend who is a librarian in the children's section of her library, and it's pathetic that she and her fellow staff have to remind parents that they cannot leave their kids unattended in the children's library. Yes, it has happened, to the point where social services was nearly called to deal with a potentially abandoned child...and upstairs in the adult sections, kids shouldn't be allowed to scream and explore on their own without parental supervision, especially with other people there trying to do the research you mentioned.

Not sure when parents are going to get it...we live in a lackadaisical, non-parenting society where they cannot be bothered with teaching them anything and showing limits. Child rearing does not end once the kid learns to crawl.

khh1138 said...

I just found your blog (it's *Fantastic*!!) and I had to stop here to say I couldn't agree more. I love my library - it's my local haven - or it was, until people just as you described started misusing it.

Kids have always been kids -- I used to be one -- and when I was a kid, in the 70s, I was *taught* how to behave in the library. Some parents are still doing their job, and I see a new generation of kids coming to our beautiful library and learning what wonders they can find there. That's nice, I don't mind that in the least.

What kills me is the one out of ten "parents" (they don't really deserve the title) who don't want to do their job who let their kids wander around, free-range, screeching, spoiling every public place that *used* to be peaceful. They are not teaching their children how to use the library, that it is any different from the park or their backyard. No, Garrett, the library is not a "tomb." But it isn't Chuck-E-Cheez, either. Any sensible person should be able to understand the difference.

Pam@GoRetro said...

Hi khh1138--thanks for your comments and I'm glad you're enjoying the blog! I couldn't agree more and the fact that this post is still attracting comments a few years after it was written means that it hits home with a lot of people.

A few months ago, I actually sent an email to my local library about the behavior of kids and the inability of parents and library staff to do much about it. I received a response from one of the head librarians who explained to me that, unfortunately, people don't take very kindly to others disciplining their kids and therefore there isn't much they can do about the situation. She went on to same that the library's role is changing and that there is still a quiet space upstairs if people need it. She said they very often long for the nostalgic days when the sound level of the library was allowed to be enforced.

So basically what it comes down to are rude parents who get very insulted if someone points out their child's obvious bad behavior. Not sure how this is going to benefit society moving forward...

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to read peacefully at a quiet Library. It is a small one, in a small town. The parents were allowing their children to scream and yell at the tops of their lungs as if they were on a playground....in the adult reading section. I honestly expected, and was waiting for a Librarian to come over and politely ask the parents to control their children and turn down the volume, but that did not happen. My daughter and I finally had to leave because we were not able to concentrate on what we were reading. We pay for these Libraries with our taxes and have the right to use them as they were intended to be used. There must be a decision made as to weather they are playgrounds or quiet reading places. Also there needs to be clarity on exactly what the Librarians job entails.

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