Monday, June 13, 2016

The noisy library

While the first association of libraries is to books, the second undoubtedly has to do with the subject of quiet. The shushing librarian and the whispering library is a cultural fixture on the order of a person shipwrecked on a tiny island, one that holds just that single Palm Tree.

But there is a back current to the idea of a quiet library that anyone working in a library well knows; libraries are noisy. People who think of libraries as quiet, reflective places are deluded, trapped in the fantasies of a 1950s America. Here in the modern public library it is all leaking headphones and cell phone conversations and public events and socializing and children melting down at a decibel level comparable to the screams of Howler Monkeys, that is Howler Monkeys playing in jet engines at a thrash metal concert held in an overcrowded aviary. 

When a reference to that mellow, studious library of yore rears its funny looking head, my co-workers and I become tired, sardonic, knowing, dismissive, and derisive. We are coldly amused. Quiet, yeah, this library was last quiet when we got two feet of snow, and we were closed for repairs, and it was the middle of the night and there was a power outage and everyone was asleep. 

But then, we are wage laborers here at the library, and all wage laborers see things a bit like hardened convicts. We are illusionless and lacking sentiment. It's our way. And in addition to our world weary bitterness we tend to be ever placed in the center of any library maelstrom. We're half the noise problem to begin with. Yes, the library is insanely noisy, wild, coming apart at the seams. People are disrespectful, parents suck, our carts are noisy, and all the machines everywhere, big and little, are indecently humming. 

But come with me upstairs. Come back to Non Fiction, towards the windows. Right now, today. Look at all the people, mostly they are alone, but some are sitting together. There are plenty of them. But not a one is talking. Shhhh. Do you hear that?

Me neither.

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