Silence in the Library

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p14_Jackie_Hemond_for_Silence_at_the_LibrarySometimes, I wear a shirt with “Sh-h-h-h” written on it. It gets a smirk or two when people realize I am a librarian. Silence in the library is a long-running joke even though most public libraries aren’t silent any more. Take for example The Silent Library, an American game show which aired on MTV from 2009 to 2012. In a set built to look like a public library, a team is subjected to embarrassing challenges, all while staying silent, because it is after all, a library. If they make little noise while enduring the challenges, the team wins money. Jimmy Fallon, the NY Giants, Justin Bieber and others played on the show.

Most public librarians embrace noise in their libraries as a demonstration of how vibrant their library is, but some patrons also seek quiet. Most libraries have quiet rooms to accommodate them. We don’t have one, unfortunately. Cambridge Sound Management offers a sound masking system which quiets noise with noise. The Schow Science Library at Williams College bought one because the library was too quiet. With high ceilings, small noises like a pencil dropping, disturbed the library users, so a low continuous noise offered relief.

A recent trend in book groups is the Silent Book Club where no one is required to read the same book or talk. Guinivere de la Mare, the founder and author of a book published in August called I’d Rather Be Reading, realized that she needed to get out of her house to read. She envisioned BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) to a bar. Chitchat occurs at the start of the meeting, but once the drinks and food arrive, serious reading begins. There are 30+ silent book groups in the United States and other countries, but none so far in Connecticut. Not all groups meet in bars, some also meet in libraries – quiet libraries, I suppose.

For myself, I much prefer our noisy library over the library in an episode of Dr. Who called Silence in the Library in which Dr. Who lands in a 51st century library, considered to be the greatest library in the universe. It encompasses an entire planet, filled with every book written. The only trouble is, there are no people to enjoy it. They have all been eaten by aggressive and quiet micro-bugs (book worms?). What’s a library without people or noise? Not a library in my opinion.

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