In films, books and as far as popular belief goes, libraries are hallowed places where silence reigns throughout, punctuated only by hoarse-voiced librarians shushing those who dare to speak. The history of the “quiet rule” is unclear but the reasons behind it are evident: as well as places from which to borrow books, libraries have historically been places where people escape to read or to study, away from the distractions of everyday life which can make reading at home or in public a challenge.
Particularly in university settings, libraries are places where students can cross-reference books for essays and dissertations, revise for their exams and study in peace – they can hear themselves think and concentrate fully on their work.
It would appear nothing is sacred, as the silent confines of the library are changing!
In many libraries, the volumes of people are increasing and the quiet areas are shrinking – and for a number of different reasons.
One such reason is the advent of IT, with libraries now including WiFi connections, banks of computers and the opportunity for library users to bring their own laptops. For some reason, it would seem that many believe that working on a computer does not command the same necessity for silence as working with books and paper might. The Internet is seen as being a more social way of studying, thus increasing a library’s volume.
Similarly, many university libraries now allow students to bring food, drinks, mobile phones and personal music players and this has lead to the environment being interrupted throughout the day with the sound of rustling crisp packets, the sound of ringtones on mobile phones that haven’t been switched to silent and the tinny noise of excessively-loud music from headphones.
Let’s not overlook some of the other reasons for the lack of silence! The library is no longer merely a place to study, read and borrow books – many are becoming community centre-like in their approach. Up and down the country, libraries are now home to mother and baby groups, craft and activity groups, festivals and even live music events. With so many non-silent activities now taking place in our nation’s ‘quiet places’, it’s no surprise that silence is at a premium.
Some libraries, in fact, have now scrapped the quiet rule altogether. Why? Well, because it is widely perceived that the use of the library has evolved from a stuffy environment into a community venue. People love to hear children enjoying themselves, and very few expect absolute silence. This may be turning away previous patrons – but there is a solution: some libraries now provide quiet rooms to allow people to enjoy the old-school library experience, while still offering the modern alternative that keeps people coming back.
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