Quiet, please!

Quiet, please!

I remember, when I was a boy spending many hours at the main branch of the public library in my old hometown of Yonkers, New York.

Many QUIET hours. Signs around the library silently asked patrons to be quiet. If someone spoke too loudly, he or she was hushed by one of the ever-vigilant librarians.

There was a reason for this. People were doing things at the library which were easier to do in quiet surroundings — researching, writing,  reading, studying…thinking.

I’m sitting now in the reference area of a public library in New Jersey.

I can hardly hear myself think.

People  don’t seem in the least bit inclined to whisper or speak softly.  Teens and adults are answering phones. Babies are crying and children are talking loudly — while their mothers, apparently oblivious, carry on loud conversations of their own.

And one of the library staff is  carrying on a loud conversation with a patron who loudly asked her if the library has a certain book he wants to read.

Never mind the other question that popped into my mind: Don’t people know how to look up a book when they know the title and the author? They need to ask a librarian to find it?

Here’s my question: Can everyone please be quiet?

I’m not being old-fashioned. I’ve been in other libraries — recently — and every one of them was blissfully quiet and conducive to reading and writing and thinking.

I understand that people can be noisy. Sometimes a cell phone rings. Sometimes a baby will throw a tantrum. And I think it’s great when libraries are community gathering places, crowded with people of all ages and interests.

And I know libraries are now media centers and that there are no more card catalogs and that the time has long passed since librarians took a card out of the back of each book and stamped it with a due date.

I know these things and they’re beside the point.

A library should be an oasis of serenity. It shouldn’t feel like the Dewey decimal system has been replaced by the decibel system.

Quiet, please!

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Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?

I might try reading the late, great Raymond Carver’s “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” I bet it’s here somewhere on this library’s shelves.

But I can’t hear myself think, never mind trying to read or, perish the thought, concentrate on my writing.

Some libraries, which used to be places where people went to read and study and work in a quiet environment, are now more noisy than a highway rest area. And the librarians at those libraries are, ironically, among the worst offenders. They carry on loud conversations, with each other and with patrons, in person and on the phone. And they ignore loud talking, intervening only when kids start to horse around and make a ruckus.

Sometimes the din gets so loud that I finally have to leave — unable to concentrate on whatever reading or writing I’m trying to get done.

A while back, I asked one of the librarians if anything could be done to quiet things down — maybe, for example, some of those old “Quiet, Please” signs were gathering dust in the storage room?

“Not going to happen” said the youngish librarian, in a slightly condescending and annoyed tone.

Look, I get it. I’m glad the kids and oldsters still come to the library. I know the library’s much more than a place to read and borrow books –it’s now a community gathering place, which is great.

But I don’t care. Tell the community to keep it down. People are trying to read and do work — trying to concentrate…And maybe folks will be a little more quiet if the nice people who run the place are given a refresher course in Library Whispering 101.