When I was a child I remember going to the library. Our branch was small and musty, but I remember getting my first library card and being allowed to choose the books I wanted from the shelves. What a thrill. In high school, the library became a place to study. I enjoyed riding the L downtown to the Harold Washington Library. In college, our library offered lots of little study nooks to find your own quiet space. I always loved the library.
Apparently, though, libraries have changed since I was younger. Today they are apparently places to gather and socialize instead of places to study. The library in my small town is just as small. In fact, it’s not any bigger than my three bedroom house. It might even be smaller than my house. There are three tables to work at, only one of them has an outlet nearby to plug in laptops. There aren’t many books there so usually you have to put things on hold to get from one of the other branches. The biggest drawback is it is very noisy there. With one big open room, half of it being the kids’ section, it’s just loud. And nobody is told to be quiet.
Gone are the days of the librarian shooshing people that got above a soft whisper. Kids are allowed to jump around and yell, the librarians themselves don’t even speak softly. In fact, the main branch of the Vancouver Regional Library System has an entire section for kids that has things to climb on and jump around on. They are on one floor. Unfortunately upstairs is the non-fiction area with some study tables, but the edges are open to the floor below so you can hear all that noise. Kids are being taught the library is a place to play.
Today I went to a different branch. It’s closer to my house than the city center one. It’s a nice size, modern and bright with lots of tables to study at and they all have outlets for laptops. Usually I can get a lot of work done, but today was different. As soon as I sat down in my favorite area I realized there was a problem. A woman sitting in the reading area near the fireplace (where people read the newspapers usually) was on her phone. Just chatting away. She was completely unconcerned with all of us studying or doing our own reading. People were glaring at her, but she was oblivious. After about thirty minutes she finally says, “hey, I have to go, I’m at the library,” and hangs up. Two seconds later the phone rings and she’s chatting again like she’s at the mall or something. She was then quiet for about forty-five minutes then made a call to complain about some charge on a bill or something. She was arguing with the person on the phone and getting upset and loud.
Meanwhile four older people pulled chairs up together about ten feet from where I was trying to study (trying being the operative word here). They began chatting loudly. Apparently they were a book club. By that time I was fed up. I got up and left. Other people had already gone. If I didn’t have my anxiety I would have complained to the librarian. I doubt they would have done anything, but it was ridiculous.
Before I went to the library I went to Shari’s for lunch. I was there for an hour, eating, drinking my iced tea, and doing homework. It was quiet. Even after it started getting busy it was still quieter than that library. There’s something very wrong in the world when a library is noisier than a restaurant at lunch time.
So when did libraries go from being places to study to being places to socialize?