The Academic Library Is Certainly No Place For Fun

Are there days at your academic library when it appears that a war is going to erupt between the students who just want solitude and quiet and those who want to do…well, whatever they feel like doing? And what they feel like doing just might be socializing (probably loudly), playing cards, using computers to watch a soccer match or anything else that disrupts the work of those who seek peace and quiet. And of course, since the students are totally incapable of policing this themselves and cooperating to create a workable environment for both groups, guess who gets to be the referee to help make sure everyone plays nice. Are you having fun yet? This is by no means a new issue, but with the proliferation of cell phones and multimedia digital entertainment – along with a growing societal trend toward a public lack of sensitivity to and respect for others’ needs for privacy and quiet – the severity the issue has rapidly escalated.

In addition to this student penned article (the inspiration for this post’s title), the quiet versus noise battle brews daily in my own library. In my new position I’ve had to calm down a number of students who were ready to go ballistic over the noise level where they were attempting to study. What I hear is the same tone as the article. “Don’t students know that the library is a place for quiet and study. It’s the only place on campus we can find that”. You see our dilemma. We need to satisfy everyone! One’s ability to do that depends, to a large degree I think, on his or her library facility. Abundant study rooms may allow those seeking isolation to find it, or they may be the perfect place to send that talkative group watching a DVD on a public PC. Well laid out areas for socialization can be kept at a distance from those designated for quiet study. Food and beverage consumption, which often generates conversational noise, is kept in check in designated areas. The last thing we want is for librarians to be perceived as noise cops. But I don’t doubt that some of our aggrieved patrons would like nothing better than to see little old Mr. Librarian pull out a big baseball bat to deal out some corporal punishment to a bunch of chatterbox undergrads.

There are no easy answers on this particular problem, so it just may be a matter of trying different strategies and sharing them (I’ve seen at least one article on dealing with cell phone noise) within the profession. One can only hope that library users will soon recognize the importance of refraining from loud conversation while others attempt to study (or do other kinds of work) or that both camps will gain the ability to self-police these noisy situations – or at least learn how to compromise. So what’s happening at your library?

13 thoughts on “The Academic Library Is Certainly No Place For Fun

  1. In our library we have different floors designated as “quiet” and if a student complains about the noise level, we refer him or her to the “quiet” floor. We also have rearrangeable divider-like pieces of furniture that allow students to arrange themselves in clusters (for group work, etc) and then close themselves off from the rest of the patrons. I believe this helps with the noise issue.

  2. I work on what could easily be classified as the “noisy” floor of the library; along with facilitating an instructional technology lab, we purposefully encourage group work and activities. That said, a quarter of the second floor is walled off and within this area we have instituted a no cell phone policy for issues of sanity (what people will discuss for all asunder to overhear is often amazing). It has been a successful venture.

    There are times when the noise gets out of hand, especially with video’s, DVD’s, and speakers on all of our computers, but it is usually possible to direct students to study rooms and quiet space offered on the upper floors of the library (the building is tall, not wide). Some days are quiet, some noisy, and oddly enough those days rarely overlap. When it does happen, it is interesting to view what effect the simple statement “inside voices, please” has on a library floor full of education majors.

  3. We have both loud and quiet areas in our library, and the students do a very good job of maintaining these noise levels without any intervention from us. We’ve designated each floor as a different level of quiet. I’ve explained them in these two posts:

    Noisy Libraries

    Reinventing Quiet

  4. We have two areas within our Academic Library…the
    “traditional” and “nontraditional” areas…the “nonradtitional” area is where group study and discussion is encouraged, as well as facilities for academic study…and is arranged in area
    “pods” where students can feel comfortable within a group…it is working great! There has been no outlandish behavior, and students seem to feel very comfortable…
    and they also respect other students around them…we have headphones available for music/video, and that is working well…our entire library is growing with our student’s needs, and usage statistics show that it is working well….

  5. Great post and comments. We too have been challenged by the noise/quiet debate. When we loosened the “rules” and opened a cafe in the library, we got a handful of written complaints. However, in the last two years we have experienced an 88% increase in our door counts. Obviously, the majority are pleased with the changes in the library.

    This week we are hosting a very large Day of the Dead exhibit on the main floor of the library. As a result, we have many new visitors including entire classes of elementary school kids. Needless to say, it is much louder.

    Of course, it’s all good. We are fortunate to have two levels; one being designated as a quiet zone.

  6. I work in an older not so well laid out library that we can designate floors for noise and quiet. Our reference room is designated as groups study and you can imagine the level gets pretty high in there. I try to defuse this with a sense of humor and making sure that I ask all parties equally to tone their conversations down. It sometimes just doesn’t happen. For instance last week I was teaching a class and behind me was a group of very loud students–supposedly doing group work. Since the students I was presenting to were being distracted and couldn’t hear, I interrupted my talk to ask them to quiet down. The room is open and my group was right in front of them. They quieted a little and then brought it up to full volume again. And since I had another class presentation and the group was still there–well you see. Another issue on the same note is when students are tutoring others but again in a loud voice–very loud–I asked her to lower the level too and was told that because she’s a singer she couldn’t do anything about it. Meanwhile the rest of the room was shooting her dirty looks and beseeching looks at me. To compound the issue, she was African-American. I did ask all the other groups to quiet–and they understood what I was doing, but it didn’t help much. So the question is often not about fun stuff v. quiet study but about those who really are doing work but are loud and inconsiderate as well as with chips on their shoulders. Any thoughts?

  7. I have a situation similar to Denise’s, though I have to say that most of the time the students are pretty good about keeping quiet above the first floor. It does make me long a bit for my previous library, which had fire doors at each floor landing–in addition to the safety element, they’re great for blocking noise. My current library has one of those open stairwells that seem to date from an era when libraries were quieter on the whole.

    I swear I wrote my own thoughts on the subject before reading this. Quite aside from workplace policy and the necessity of being somewhat accommodating of preferences in a shared workspace, my personal preference for a bit of quiet can be hard to satisfy in general: I live near a freeway and under a flight path, for the sake of the advantages of my particular location. It’s a tradeoff. But dang, modern life sure is noisy.

  8. Regarding “One can only hope that library users will soon recognize the importance of refraining from loud conversation while others attempt to study (or do other kinds of work) or that both camps will gain the ability to self-police these noisy situations – or at least learn how to compromise,” I am not optimistic. We’re going to have to set quiet areas–divide up the library. So a turf battle is brewing, yes.

    I base this on what might be linked to the video-game mind. Those that grew up using video games may not be able to “see” or “hear.” Loud talkers in libraries and restaurants or stores do not “see” those around them. Nor do they hear those around them. Walkers do not “see” those walking towards them on narrow sidewalks as something they are about to run into. Instead, the duo or trio retain their side-by-side position and run me off the sidewalk. I thought the first time it was rudeness, but it kept happening over and over again. They can’t “see” me. Something blurring towards your face will not hit you, they learn.

    An undergraduate and his two classmates discuss their math problems in the evening at a table right near the reference desk. I was very hesitant to say anything. AFterall, there’s always talking in the reference area. We are helping people and people are asking questions. But one in particular was speaking as though he was addressing a lecture hall of 300 without a mike. So the second night it happened, I asked the group if they would please speak more softly. They did. But you had to see the look on the face of the loud talker. Total silence, totally blank look of confusion, like he was surprised to see me there?

    Fascinating to me.

  9. We just updated our Library Code (one of my colleagues wrote this document as a joke, but we all liked it), and sent press releases to the university newspaper and the campus newsletter. We got a great editorial from the paper, and the noise level has lessened. We’ve also posted signs to remind our patrons.

    But we, too, have a floor designated as quiet, as opposed to the main floor where people are allowed to talk in normal voices. And our Starbucks is on the lower level, so people making noise down there don’t bother us.

  10. Here’s an addendum to my post on library noise – an interesting quote from an article in the Sunday NYT:
    “If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people. The cellphone talker thinks his rights go above that of people around him, and the jammer thinks his are the more important rights.”
    - JAMES KATZ, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at
    Rutgers University.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/technology/04jammer.html?th&emc=th

  11. How about this “quiet” lawsuit: a guy I know asked someone to be quieter in a small library on a large Univ. campus, and the head librarian told me he can’t do that – he has to “go through staff.” When my friend complained that the rule is infantile, the librarian threw him out and told the cops he’s to be considered a trespasser from now on. So now it’s a first amendment case in federal court.

  12. Ok, I will speak the heresy. WHO said “…that the library is a place for quiet and study…?” Just who declared this the case? I want their name!!! I have been bugged by this concept since I entered the profession many years ago… as a loud librarian whose voice carries through concrete. Even more bugged because the same student who wants quiet want to be not-quiet when they want to be not-quiet. Here at a certain Midwestern university know for football… and scholarship, I’d answer the student “Don’t students know that the library is a place for quiet and study. It’s the only place on campus we can find that.” Here THE place for quiet is Church! Any empty classroom! OR move to the quiet floor.

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