Posted by: Matt | July 25, 2007

Libraries Are Not for Reading

No ReadingI had some time to kill Tuesday evening before needing to be somewhere. I decided to spend that time reading, but where? The library of course, there was one very near to where I eventually needed to be. What better place to read a book than the library right? Wrong. It was one of the worst places I could have chosen.

What has happened to the library? I remember when I was younger having it drilled into my head that the library is a place where you whisper, keep your voice down. Be respectful of others. Peruse the stacks quietly, look with wonder at thousands of books, all there to be read. Somewhere along the way this idea has been thrown out the window. The library, this particular one anyway, is loud and distracting, I might have had better luck at the McDonald’s down the street. Cell phones loudly ringing, people speaking loudly on them, kids running around loudly yelling. I could barely concentrate on the words in front of me.

It’s really sad when a place dedicated to serving readers is one of the worst places to read. I suppose I should be happy that the library is being used, that it was busy enough to be loud. But, to be honest, I’m not. Looking on the bright side has never been a strength. Anyway, I won’t be making that mistake again, next time I need to kill some time I’ll suffer the heat in my car in a parking lot somewhere, maybe the parking lot of the library.



  1. I’m convinced that my local library has no books. Each time I try to find something I don’t want to buy, they never have it. I could go through the inter-library loan system, but the way it’s set up is annoying.

  2. I have so many things to say! In our library we have certain quiet sections and others that are not so quiet. I like that. The library exists as a community center, information depot and meeting place, not just as a warehouse of books. A loud library, to me, is a wonderful place…and not just because it means my job will likely be funded for one more year!

    I’d also say that the serving readers is not the main purpose of most public libraries. We exist to satisfy all of the community’s informational needs…and some of those needs can be quite noisy.

    I know it can be frustrating when you can’t seem to find a quiet place. I know you aren’t trying to look on the bright side. Still, I’d hate for you to go off libraries entirely simply because they aren’t quiet!!

  3. marydell – I often find that my branch doesn’t have what I want either. But I can usually get it within a couple of days by putting it on hold and having it sent to my branch, unless, of course, there are no available copies. I’ve gotten pretty good at anticipating when I want something so I’m pretty comfortable with our system.

    Kristin – This particular library has no quiet section, but another branch that I go to does, I’m not sure how quiet it is. I don’t usually use libraries for reading, but it was a frustrating experience. I will definitely not stop using them, I have no problem checking books out there, I just won’t be reading at them anymore. Bookstores, in my opinion, make much better reading places. Thanks for your comment, nice to have the perspective of a librarian!

  4. I’m a Librarian-Media Teacher and Matt has touched on a serious issue, indeed. While my high school LMC hosts Monday Musicales once a month that includes everything from flute duets to a jazz band, I still value and try to have areas most of the time that are quiet enough to attract serious readers. Kristin makes a very valid point concerning serving the community if an entity expects its funding to continue, but like Matt, I prefer to read in a quiet place rather than sit in my car in a parking lot for that purpose.

  5. My library has meeting rooms, classrooms and a glass enclosed children’s library. Those are noisy places, as is the checkout area, and that is perfectly normal since they were designed to be noisy places.

    But I draw the line at noise in the stacks themselves because that’s where the work tables and chairs are located. Children running around corners at full speed, screaming and giggling to each other are just not acceptable. Their parents seldom seem to find that to be a problem, however. Cell phone conversations are frowned upon in that part of the library. But there is still a surprisingly large number of people who don’t grasp the concept of not having to scream into a cell phone to be heard on the other end. Luckily, the librarians try to shoo them out of the area ASAP.

    Since common courtesy seems to be a thing of the past, libraries need noise rules and they need people who are not afraid to enforce those rules.

  6. I think it’s just one more example of the lack of respect many of the people in our society have for anyone and anything other than their own selfish interests. As an elementary school librarian, I am still trying to instill in my kids that a library is a quiet place, and my main thrust in that effort is respect for others. I’ll keep working on it in my little corner of the world!

  7. As a school librarian, I guess an obvious question that I have is…”Did you ask a librarian if there was a quiet place to read?” That’s usually a big hint to a librarian that things are a bit noisy and some patrons aren’t happy. They usually try to make some changes (or at least, I would!)

    Another thought was that perhaps activities were taking place at “just that moment”…. (like the summer reading program for children which often releases children who have been quietly participating in another area and who have just been released to locate books, find parents, etc.,—as a school librarian, I encouraged my students to participate in this program to help them maintain their reading skills for the fall. I’d be excited to know that my students were actually using the public library in JULY!!)

    I agree that the cell phone situation should have been “nipped in the bud” by the nearest librarian who would have shown the patron their signage which reads, “Thank you for using your cell phone outside.” However, I also realize that signage is ignored (and I hope it’s not because patrons cannot read it!)

    Regardless of these annoying things, the reality is this…. the summer is one of the busiest seasons for public libraries and librarians. Children and teens are out of school and adults are on vacation. Most are looking for inexpensive, creative, yet entertaining programs and activities. Public libraries serve each of these groups of individuals better than any other “under-funded” program under the sun. With videos, DVDs, and books available free of charge (although maybe not the newly released titles that everyone anxiously awaits because new books require the allocation of additional funds — or at least substantial funds to meet the needs of a community), the public library provides a service that NO other agency can provide. Although it may be noisy sometime throughout the day, at least it is being used. Imagine how mad you’d be to find a multi-million dollar tax investment sitting quietly alone without anyone inside on a perfectly wonderful summer’s day? Your tax dollars are being used (stretched and squeezed) through your public library…everyone in the community is using it!! 🙂

    Finally, if you haven’t been able to find your favorite author’s latest title at your public library, remember to contact your local city government and encourage the allocation of additional funds for public libraries to purchase those titles. In addition, be sure to watch for upcoming votes on funding for new construction to the public library (perhaps for a quiet study / reading area just for you), as those taxes help to increase the library’s opportunity to serve you better. Voices like yours help to make significant changes that can produce results, such as new library programs, services, and resources.

    Rather than disregarding the library as a “noisy place” to ignore, take just a moment to investigate how libraries have changed. Like most living, growing things, the library is stretching and changing to meet the needs of a new type of patron…maybe the noisy one who, until the day of your visit, had never been inside a library before to learn about “library rules.”

    Thank goodness, someone taught you how to use the library…and how to return to it for quiet comfort. Please give it another chance and become “invested” in it beyond the one, noisy day.

  8. I can see why this would have been very frustrating and all the comments give me a lot to think about. Libraries in Switzerland are very quiet indeed. People come and go because there aren’t stacks to wander through. You order your books ahead of time and pick them up at the desk. There are places for students to study (take a number, grab the allotted desk, keep your head down and down breathe too loudly) but I miss those quiet reading spaces from libraries in the US. With chairs and stacks and stacks of books I could wander through. I think that most libraries should work to keep these places for readers who come in, look for books and sit down.

  9. I understand your frustration, I would be too. But don’t give up on your library. My library has four floors and the first one is very noisy but the higher the floor the quieter it gets. There are also study rooms with doors to close out all noise. Maybe your library has a quiet area you could go to as well?

  10. Oh here (Serbia) in our libraries we have separate section for readers; we even have libraries where you need special approval to bring your own book (means you could use books only from that library, usually books that cannot be loaned and taken out of the building). There is ruling sacred silence.
    However there are sometimes lack of discipline but in general libraries are quite and USUALLY only for loaning books (not reading), at least that part with high ‘traffic’. Talking on the cell phone is really something I can’t even imagine in library.
    I’d be frustrated as well. Moreover I’d ask from librarians to do something. But as I say I can’t even imagine that situation.


  11. I’ve tagged you for The Blogging Tips Meme – hope you’ll play!

  12. Larry – I really had considered my car but thought the library would be better, it was not to be. I realize the library needs to be attractive to the community but shouldn’t a library also be for reading like you say?

    Sam – This particular library has no quiet rooms or areas and there are signs about cell phone use but those are ignored of course. At least one of the employees was talking quite loudly herself, so she was obviously not going to be enforcing any kind of noise guideline.

    Nancy – It is in elementary school and junior high that I remember having it drilled into my head that the library is a quiet place, I’m glad you are continuing the tradition!

    Shonda B. – I didn’t even think to ask a librarian if there was a quiet place. That is a good idea, too often I just sit there quietly fuming instead of trying to do something constructive. i thank you for the reminder. I suppose it is also possible that some sort of summer program was going on, next time I will be sure to check.

  13. Verbivore – That is an interesting way to run a library! I think I prefer the stacks for wandering and perusing. And I also think that every library should have at least one quiet area just for reading.

    Stefanie – As I mentioned this particular library does not have a quiet area. But the branch I usually go to does. Next time I am there I will check it out. And don’t worry, I’m not giving up on my library, at least not for checking out books!

    Milan – Thanks for the comment, it is fascinating to learn about libraries in different countries. The cell phone thing was very frustrating, even though I carry a cell phone sometimes I wish they had never been invented. And next time I will have to say something to a librarian.

    caribousmom – I’ve seen this going around, I will definitely take part!

  14. yes, I’ve had the same frustration, Matt. I also find myself reserving the books online, picking them up and then sitting in a quiet cafe or the park (which is somehow more quiet than the stacks which, in NYC in summer, seem to employ lots of teenagers who talk to each other). It’s great that they’re around books, and some of their talk is actually about what they’re reading, it’s just bad that they’re around me – curmudgeon that I am – when I want to read!
    Social boundaries seem to be different now, especially since the advent of the cell phone. And certain social groups have different mores when it comes to space and noise than the one I come from. I feel sorry if the children who visit the library today cannot have that hushed, hallowed feeling that libraries used to give me, but maybe that’s just nostalgia on my part.

  15. Wow, my library is nothing like that. There are comfy chairs in totally silent sections facing a gorgeous view of the mountains. There are study rooms, which are glassed in and have doors that close. The entire nonfiction section is dead quiet. The kids’ section is downstairs, and no sound carries up from there. And the couple times I’ve tried to read right next to the circulation desk while waiting for someone to check books out, I’ve noticed the librarians themselves talk in very carrying tones, but that’s ok because there are so many other quiet places to settle down and read.

    I noticed though, that in the nearest big town, both branches of the library are a place kids with no parents home after school go to hang out, as well as a warm place where homeless people gather. The homeless people are very quiet indeed. The kids usually hang out in the lobbies, outside or in the children’s section, but you still hear them at times.

    I think that some libraries must just be poorly managed. And some must just have poorly planned space.

  16. Aw that’s too bad Matt. Does your library not have a “quiet” room? My library has gotten noisier over the years – not too bad though but we do have one room with comfy couches and chairs which is a dedicated reading room. No cell phones, no talking, etc. It’s wonderful.

  17. Most libraries have a way for patrons to recommend library purchases and most do their best to purchase items their patrons want. Find out how to recommend purchases, chances are someone else wants the same thing you do!

    Instead of children feeling the library is a hush, hallowed place I think they feel it is a magical place full of wonders for them to explore. Brain research shows us that kids learn through their senses, they learn by doing–talking, touching, moving, tasting, smelling, and seeing. This is not quiet! These children are going to fall in love with books and the library. They’re the ones most likely to grow up to be educated citizens that value and participate in their communities… and their libraries!

    Most libraries try to designate quite places or places for noise, unfortunately not all have the space or lay-out to do so which can be frustrating for both the people who like the noise and those who like the quiet.

  18. Dewey – that sounds like heaven!

  19. Ted – I suppose I’m a curmudgeon as well. 🙂 Maybe the library isn’t what I thought it was. I thought that quiet was part of it, but maybe it’s just a depository for information.

    Dew – This library is actually quite small, and only one floor. There isn’t much room for a quiet area. And this branch also seems to be a place where kids hangout. A much better hangout than a lot of others I can think of.

    iliana – That quiet room your library has sounds great! A different branch that I visit has a quite area, but it’s not closed off from the rest of the library so I’m not sure how quiet it stays.

    Turtle Lady – This library definitely doesn’t have the space necessary for a quite area. It’s kind of an odd building and could probably use a remodel or even replacement, but I know that requires a lot of funds.

  20. […] 3rd, 2007 by imani Last week Matt at Variety of Words blogged about his unfortunate experience at his local library. It’s a shame I hadn’t […]

  21. Libraries have become more like community centers and I think this is because of the fear of a drop of literacy, at least where I am. With so many other ways to spend leisure time, especially for young people, libraries have to be more glamourous than they used to be. The library is trying to ‘hook them while their young’ with storytime and plays, etc. At least, my library has the sense to have a children’s section that actually appeals to children. (Although I see a lot of adults reading in there, maybe the kids are quieter than the adults!) And the librarians are so good with the kids. Still, I always remind my little one that libraries are for quiet. And cell phones, yikes, what are people thinking!

    I’m glad to see that my library is always busy, although not everyone is there for reading.

  22. I’m a librarian, and I completely agree with you. In my 27 years at the same library (and if anyone who is planning a library career thinks that’s cool, it is NOT), I’ve seen the library degenerate into something raucous and anti-intellectual. It’s very sad. Even though I work for 35 hours a week in a library, I go to bookstores when I want to enjoy being amongst books. Barnes & Noble is more book-friendly than any library these days!

  23. Chris – I know what you mean. I’ve seen the libraries around me offer video game nights to get the young people in. Better the library than some other places. But I could use at least a little emphasis on quiet.

    melanie – It saddens me to see a librarian say this. But it’s good to know that some librarians still have a high idea of what a library should be. I hope things get better.

  24. That would drive me batty. I’ve heard the argument (I mean, explanation) of how libraries want to continue to be relevant – in what? An illiterate age? I understand that times & mores change but I think readers would be better served by libraries having “Noise Zones” and not Quiet Zones.

    Of course why would a library care about readers?

  25. Wow I have come to the right place! I agree that libraries are NOT what they used to be and how sad it is that people seem to have no respect for others. I love to read but like so many have said, I prefer to order my books in advance and take them home to peace and quiet.
    I really cannot understand why parents can’t impress upon their children that although they go to the library as a fun activity , it doesn’t mean they can run screaming around while there.
    Lessons about respect don’t seem to matter any more!

  26. Carrie K – Apparently they only care about readers insofar as they come to the library to pick up books, but not read them. I guess if they have to be noisy to appeal to those who vote on funding than I’d rather have noise than no libraries.

    merrimerri – I’ve noticed that many people don’t care about anyone but themselves now. Being considerate and respectful of others is a thing of the past. I step outside in my neighborhood and witness that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: