A place for everything…and everything in its place

May 16, 2012

Prior to our library expansion, we had many issues with noise in our library.  Because everything was crowded, there was zero ability to allocate space appropriate to activities.  If you wanted to study in a quiet area, you were generally out of luck because right next to you was a person having a conversation, a child crying, or some other sound that was guaranteed to disrupt your concentration.

In our newly renovated library, we have an area dedicated to quiet.   We try hard to keep the atmosphere peaceful and serene, perfect for studying, reading, and contemplating.  We don’t ban computers; many people sit at the tables with their laptops or tablets and quietly work.  But we do ask people to turn off the ringer on their cell phones.

Here is the text of our sign posted in the area.

Designated QUIET AREA

This area of our library was built in 1916 and has been restored as much as possible to that period of time.  Take a step back into the past and enjoy it as if it were 1916!  We appreciate your honoring these rules for this area:

  • No cell phones please  (meaning either ringers or conversations)
  • Only the quietest of conversations among the  people here (think “shhhh”)
  • Laptops are allowed (yes, that’s anachronistic but with all these tables we recognize it’s a good place for computer work)
  • No sound allowed from computers, iPods or any other device that didn’t exist in 1916

We also recently put up some wall words in this area.  Here’s a photo:

Longhand for “Shhhh!”

I’ve always loved that quotation because for me libraries inspire reverence.    Libraries can’t always deliver on the quiet part and it’s open to debate whether or not they should.  But if you have a building that is well-planned and large enough for your community, it’s possible to have a mixture of quiet and noisy spaces.  A library should have a place where you can gather, discuss, and connect, a place where you can bring your baby even if you know crying is likely, and a place where you can sit alone and dream about tomorrow.

Not only do we have different needs at different times in our own lives, but we are not all the same.  Over the years, I’ve had people leave the library complaining about the noise on the same day someone else would mention to me that the they didn’t feel comfortable bringing their 2-year-old to the library because it was “too quiet an atmosphere.”

One of the best things about our library expansion and renovation is that our building is now able to accommodate the widely varied needs of our citizens.    It’s comforting to know that whatever the future holds, one of our library’s most important contributions is to offer a physical space for the crying baby, the cramming student, the scholarly thinker, the social connector, the happy retiree, the driven genealogist, and the auto mechanic on a mission for that electrical diagram.

We have much to offer our citizens in terms of community space, much like what’s discussed in this interesting piece entitled:  Libraries that matter.  As libraries continue to reinvent themselves, the role of the physical space seems ever more important.

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