Several times in the hallowed history of this blog, I’ve pontificated about a lack of silence being acceptable in the modern public library. As it turns out, “public” is quite the operative word in that sentiment, as a recent experience in a library of a different type has shown me my tolerance for tumult doesn’t extend to the entire biblioverse. There are certain libraries that rest in the middle of institutions otherwise devoted to 24/7 boisterous partying and are meant to be sanctuaries for those seeking respite from the hurly-burly. No, I’m not talking about academic libraries; obviously, I’m referring to cruise ship libraries.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to be straight floatin’ on a boat on the deep blue sea. Because you apparently just can’t take the library out of the librarian, despite having access to a never-ending smorgasbord of delicious food, wicked waterslides, and an itinerary packed with funtivities, I found myself seeking a quiet place to read one afternoon. Cruise ships aren’t exactly bastions of silence; the air is constantly cluttered with the sounds of live music, games and contests, spirited chitchat, and smiling waiters emerging from the potted plants to try to sell you drinks. I figured my best shot at serene reading conditions would be settling down in the ship’s library. I reasoned if there were to be one peaceful place in this high seas fiesta zone, the library would have to be the place.
What a naïve landlubber I am.
Not five minutes into my reading sesh, in walked the King of the Unnecessarily Load Talkers and his young heir to the throne. They debated which board game they should play at a volume most civilized people reserve for trying to have a conversation while standing directly next to the speakers at a Slayer concert or warning the villagers that the British are coming. As someone who is overly polite and passive, my weapons in such situations are pretty much limited to semi-ambiguous facial expressions of frustration. I did my best to be visibly annoyed, but my efforts were wasted. There was a staff member present for “Library Hour,” but she was not the shushing hero I had hoped she would be. Defeated, I closed my book and went to the ship’s main lobby area, which, even with a live band and bar noise, was a veritable…library compared to that library.
What’s the lesson here? Is it that I’m a hypocrite with inconsistent expectations? Maybe, but let’s go with a lesson that’s not so unflattering for me. Perhaps it’s that everyone has different visions of what a library should be, and the environment offered and approach taken by each library will determine to what extent those individual visions can be realized. Size is clearly a factor. BPL is small relative to most public libraries, but we’re large enough to give the wee ones license to be rambunctious while still providing pockets of quiet for readers and studiers. To be fair to cruise ship libraries, being the size of a doctor’s office waiting room, they’re not large enough to be everything to everyone, or even two things to two different people. Those libraries will conform to strongest will in the room. Land libraries have mission statements that drive them, in conjunction with the confluence of wills, wishes, and needs of their patrons, to be all the things (within reason) the people they serve need them to be. My cruise ship has a mission statement that I’m pretty sure just repeats the word “fun” over and over in various font sizes and colors. In retrospect, I should’ve seen this coming.