I’m writing at the public library – okay, at this very moment I’m actually posting on Facebook at the public library – and there’s a student and his tutor two tables over, discussing what sounds like a paper he’s written. They’re working hard, it’s clearly an interaction with meaning and value, and it’s good to see young people actively engaged in scholarship.
That said, these two people, who I have no reason to think ill of, and whose pursuit of scholarly betterment is worthy of support, are VERY LOUD, and that’s one of my beefs with the current dialogue around the future of libraries. There’s so much talk about libraries evolving to become more visibly dynamic centers of group collaboration, focused on lively, unfettered conversation and a 180 degree change from the old, hidebound perception of libraries as places to speak in whispers or risk being shushed. That’s all well and good – I understand the value of those things – but I worry that the value of quiet contemplation and internal focus is being publicly dismantled, one smartboard or piece of modular furniture at a time.
The library’s the only public place I rely on to consistently provide a haven from the world’s relentless barrage of external noise; I don’t have that at home, and I rarely find it at places like coffeeshops. Some of us place enormous value on the quiet we find at the public library; some of us badly need it. I hope that emphasis on quiet doesn’t get completely obliterated in the process of redefining the role of libraries in our society.