If I asked most people, “What do you picture when you imagine a library?”, I’m betting I’d get a response something like “a quiet place filled with books run by bespectacled, bun-headed librarians.” Well, those people would be 33% right. Most libraries are in fact filled with books, but librarians sporting the glasses and bun look aren’t nearly as prevalent as they used to be, and, believe it or not, libraries, especially public ones, really aren’t that quiet anymore. And in the summer? Fuhgeddaboudit!
The passage of time has seen public libraries evolve into very different institutions than they were back in the old days when Andrew Carnegie roamed the countryside with a bag of library seeds planting them (I may have him mixed up with Johnny Appleseed, but that’s essentially what Carnegie did). Many of the changes libraries have undergone have been the result of technological advancement. We no longer use card catalogs; we have computers to help us find our items. While we still have printed books, consumption of e-books continues to grow exponentially, and libraries are placing increasingly heavy focus on e-content in order to keep up with the demand for digital. Some of the changes to libraries, including the one I’m interested in here, have come about due to how library facilities are used. Public libraries have pretty much always been community gathering areas, but the nature of the gatherings that occur in them has changed dramatically, in ways that quite literally bring the noise. While some still come for quiet group study or orderly meetings conducted at relentlessly sensible decibel levels, many others gather in more boisterous ways, particularly in the summer months. From June through August, public libraries aren’t as much destinations for the quiet pursuit of knowledge as they are carnivals of controlled, enriching chaos. Mobs of children and parents storm our doors for LEGO building, video gaming, drum circles, yoga classes, live animal encounters, magic shows, science experiments, and a smorgasbord of other decibel meter-taxing activities.
So, what’s to be made of all this library loudness? Why don’t we cut out all of these rowdy shenanigans? That’s just not going to happen, because a) the youngins love ‘em, b) they allow for learning while having fun at the same time, and c) those who attend tend to come for the festivities and stay for the books, and whatever gets people reading is A-OK by us. Sure, there’s going to be some extra noise that some library goers may find a bit unsavory. We sincerely regret if it detracts from your library experience, but if you keep in mind that most of it is the result of families in the community coming together to be entertained, enriched, encouraged, and enveloped by the joys of reading, perhaps you can make peace with the absence of peacefulness.