Unbutton Your Cardigans and Loosen Your Buns

I’m one of those annoying adults who still use the phrase, “When I grow up, I want to be…” Yeah, it’s not original nor cute, but it’s true. I haven’t reached the point where I’m comfortable having a “career” versus a “job.” I do have a strong list of possibilities including Indiana Jones in heels, a NASCAR driver, and, the slightly more likely, librarian.

I get nerdily excited about books. Especially the musty ones with the yellowing pages that slide through your fingers with a certain gritty, greasiness only possible from years on a shelf. It’s why I don’t like e-readers and won’t use them. The experience of reading a book isn’t the same. You don’t get the feeling of accomplishment or, minimal, caloric burn as you do when cracking a spine or turning a page. Although if you have children, I bet you still get that greasy, gritty feel under your finger when sliding across the screen.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my books, but not my library. Recently Salon senior writer, Laura Miller, published a piece encouraging the return of the quiet library. “Bring back the shushing librarian” cited a Pew survey indicating that “…quiet matters more to library patrons than special programs for kids or job-search resources or access to fancy databases or classes and events or spaces for public meetings.”

Miller continues that an unquiet, social library risks becoming places “…as lively as a cafe, street corner, park bench or the Apple Store, but we already have those places to go when we want to sit and visit or to congregate around a screen.” She asks, “Where will we go when we need some peace?”

How about the woods or a park? An abandoned factory who’s workers have been displaced by an economy that transfers jobs overseas necessitating job-search resources in a community space? Beyond those community-building resources provided by many libraries, the idea that silence is the best practice, overlooks the fundamental use of a library: the transference of knowledge.

Author’s and illustrators possess the ability to transplant knowledge into anyone. To conjure questions, fear, curiosity are all paramount to learning and, therefore, opening one’s mind. If this is being done in solitude, tucked away in cubicle or hidden lounge chair, is it not prohibitive to the very point? Or when it’s done on a park bench or Apple Store or cafe, it lacks the ability to research and expound with thousands of references at your whimsy. And if you are thinking the internet counts in these situations, it doesn’t, as it is mostly like the first search result will be Wikipedia.

When I’m in a library and I read something that is instantly emotional: interesting, saddening, exciting, angering, the first thing I want to do is find the nearest person, shove the book under their nose, and yell, “OH SHIT! Look at this!”

In a previous blog post, I lamented about the idea that people talk too much without consideration for the actual content, caring only that their opinion be the one that is heard. I’m not reversing my opinion on that by suggesting that as soon as someone develops an idea after reading that it should be immediately and obnoxiously shared with others. I’m suggesting that the library be a place for that type of spontaneous discussion that encourages viewing ideas from alternate sides. The unquenchable thirst that plagues many of the insatiable knowledge seekers and life-long learners could be satisfied with these impromptu gatherings, but a quiet library discourages the very idea.

The silence of a library is scary. It is uncomfortable and it forces me to be hyper-aware to every noise that I make, which is turn causes me to make A LOT of unintentional noise. I bump into shelves, knock over books with my purse, and just generally take the role of proverbial bull that has inexplicably found themselves  in that damn china shop. It’s not in my nature to be particular graceful, nor attempt to do so quietly. This overall anxiety about my awkward library etiquette also means that I don’t ask questions that I actually want to and I don’t engage fellow patrons for fear of imposing on their, possibly forced, silence.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has these anxieties about library silence, although it may be heightened by personal quirks, but why not, as suggested by a library staff member quoted in Miller’s article, use, “…smaller cubicles…(and) quiet spaces…not…in any open areas,” thus reserving “..the main part of the library (to the hustle and bustle)?”

While the Pew survey claims to include a cross section of the public, I’d be interested to see a survey broken down by age. I think it could be successfully argued that for younger patrons the progressively social aspect of the library is welcome. The library hasn’t been a hip place since Rome, so any attempt at drawing in a variable cross-section of the community that includes the “cool kids” is probably aiming to high, but constructing a less intimidating environment for the casual nerd might be the key to the extension of public funding and the necessary elimination of those embarrassing Shh… finger tattoos.