Libraries

The future role of libraries has been a topic of discussion recently, with Culture Secretary Andy Burnham urging that, in an effort to raise levels of inclusivity, the use of mobile phones, snacks, computer games, chatter and general plebian behaviour be embraced rather than stamped under the sensible shoes of library assistants.  

My views on the matter are inevitably informed by my own personal experience of not so long ago, at what was until recently my local library.  Said library, which will remain nameless, had recently undergone significant refurbishment and, upon reopening, had followed the new noise-loving path advocated by Burnham.  

I went there one afternoon to do some research.  Outside on the courtyard was a drum ensemble giving a performance.  I presumed this was part of some horrible cultural festival thing that I ought to pretend to be in favour of, but no, it was actually a promotion for chocolate.  Once inside the library, the noise was only slightly dulled by the building’s glass frontage.  Although I’m sure what the drummers were doing was lovely, I found that try as I might, I couldn’t even concentrate enough to select the books I needed from the shelves, let alone sit down and try to use them.  I approached a member of staff and asked why this was allowed to be happening, and she told me that it was just something different and fun.  I begged to differ, and she gave me a complaints form to fill out.  I did so, gave it back to her, and as I walked away, I could see, out of the corner of my eye, her sharing it with a colleague and sniggering.  The effect of all this was that I was made to feel about eighty, isolated for actually trying to use the library for the very purpose I had up until that point presumed they existed for in the first place.

Now, I recognise that many find libraries intimidating.  It’s annoying and inconvenient that they do so, but they do.  This is a fact that has to be taken into consideration when thinking about how libraries are arranged and what goes on in them, or else they will not serve their communities, and they will indeed become a publicly-funded resource for the few.

Equally, however, those who want to carry out in-depth study, some work involving concentration, who want to read, or maybe even just need a bit of quiet, can’t be made to feel victimised and unwelcome. For many years, the studious, the quiet, the introverted and socially awkward, the marginalised and the plain mad have found solace in libraries, and to take away this one place they can truly call their own is an act of such cruelty, bordering on psychological violence, that only a New Labour minister could be so insensitive to actually be capable of it.

The answer surely, is just sensible division of space.  An inner study area, where most of the books are kept, and where the old ways of quiet and extreme sexual tension still rule.  Outside of this, an outer, more informal area, with music, computer games, coffee, mobile phones, klaxons and road drills, and a smaller selection of books and magazines for casual flicking, where the desired  social interaction and communal hubbery can take place.  If the noise from this area penetrates the inner sanctum of silence, however, then it can be considered to have got too loud.  In this way the socially awkward who are intimidated by people can maintain their sacred pace in the books and silence, and the socially confident who are intimidated by books and silence get to have a livelier place of their own.  Both will be intrigued by the other, and tentatively step into each other’s spaces, so that the jocks will get literature, and the nerds will get dates.   The cool kids will get with the squares, and throw a big high school prom right there in the library.  World peace will then be attained.

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4 Responses to “Libraries”

  1. Yes, if there’s no room for quiet then that’s a poorly designed library. Here at my library we embrace the loud library model as well, but we also have quiet study rooms. Most of the other libraries I know of that also embrace this shift have entire quiet floors. Andy Burgham’s ideal will not succeed without planning for both loud and quiet areas. But, on the other hand we are an increasingly loud culture and increasing numbers of people are not requiring quiet areas. Do we plan for the future and take it away, or spend the extra money for this transition period (if it is only a transition period)?

  2. Derek Thompson Says:

    I think unruly libraries and librarians should be brought to book.

  3. libraries eh?..

    …um oh yeah – this all puts me in mind of that old joke about the guy who goes into a library and loudly asks for a big mac and fries. the librarian looks up and said, “sir, this is a library.” the guy replies, “oh – sorry,” lowers his voice and whispers, “can i have a big mac and fries please?”

  4. For many years, the studious, the quiet, the introverted and socially awkward, the marginalised and the plain mad have found solace in libraries, and to take away this one place they can truly call their own is an act of such cruelty, bordering on psychological violence, that only a New Labour minister could be so insensitive to actually be capable of it.

    Oh, well said.

    Once again, the answer comes down to two words. Breeding licences.

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