Customers need change

Someone who works at a public library and is ‘studing an MSc in Information and Library Studies’ at a University was terribly irritated by that piece on libraries the other day.

The article is awash with dismay over the move to allow library users to eat, drink and, heaven forbid, actually talk. Interestingly, they talk about the ’silence rule’- a concept that is completely alien to either myself or just about any other person I have encountered who works in a public library.

Ah, is it indeed. Why?

Don’t bother asking; the library student never says. It’s such an absurd, outdated, stuffy, elitist, stupid idea that it’s simply self-evident what’s wrong with it. Which is interesting, because one would think (or hope, forlornly) that people who work in libraries would have at least a glimmer of an idea why people who frequent libraries would value silence while they do it. But apparently not.

If these people have their way, the public library would be nothing more than a physical manifestation of all that was bad about the 1950s. Time moves on, society changes, customers needs change. Libraries must, therefore, change.

Why? Again, the student doesn’t say. Society does change, of course, but why that means libraries now have to be raucous instead of quiet is not clear, nor is it clear why ‘customers’ need noise in place of quiet. But then of course we are not students of Information and Library Studies, so naturally we do not understand.

[O]ne thing is for certain, things need to move forward. There should not be enforced silence (we don’t and it certainly isn’t noisy, despite what the critics might assume), there should be an attempt to make the library a cool place to hang out…and, above all, the library should be open and welcoming to everyone, regardless of who they are. Elitism will kill the library service. Eradicating the old-fashioned perception of libraries might just save it.

‘It certainly isn’t noisy’ – well I wish that were the case in the public libraries I know, but it isn’t. I don’t ‘assume’ they’re noisy, I know damn well they are because I use them. I use them, but I don’t consider them ‘open and welcoming to everyone’ – I don’t consider them welcoming to people like me who want to be able to read and think in libraries. They are welcoming to people who want to make noise, they are welcoming to people who want to treat the library like an auxiliary living room or a part-time kindergarten, but they are not welcoming to people who want to use the library as a library.

Why does future librarian assume that being open and welcoming to everyone requires being noisy and raucous? Why does future librarian assume that everyone wants noise and raucousness all the time and everywhere? Why does future librarian not think it is possible to be open and welcoming to everyone by offering quiet in one place and noise in others? Coffee shops are open and welcoming to everyone but they don’t serve fish or provide Balkan dance troupes. Rock concerts are open and welcoming to everyone but they don’t provide quiet and desks and books. Why can’t libraries be open and welcoming to everyone in a library way instead of a different way? Library student doesn’t say, and neither do the three commenters, one of whom has worked in libraries for 25 years. Which is depressing for the future of libraries. Apparently what one learns when one studies ‘Library Studies’ is that libraries should be abolished while (inexplicably) retaining the old name.

I saw library student’s post via a post at Tom Morris’s place. He is eloquent on this subject.

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