Friday, January 29, 2010

Ssshhh! The library is speaking to you

Photo by Ozyman

The last time I was in a college campus library, I had pimply skin, 18 layers of anti-winter gear, and a paper to write.

Fast-forward five (five!) years to today, as I sit once more in a college library, this time with clearer skin, only two layers on, and a blog post to write. Fella is upstairs in an 'optional'-but-really-required lecture, so I'm treating this learning hub as adult day care.

As I sit here staring up at the skylights, I think, "Why don't I come to libraries more often?" The system was really onto something when it decided all patrons should be quiet when they're here. I find it remarkable that this simple rule -- no speaking -- is so universally acknowledged, respected, and obeyed.

I don't think it's from fear of librarians' wrath, either. It's part of the unbreakable library code: Be silent for others to find silence within yourself.

After all, libraries are places where you accomplish things. Did you come hear to read? Then read. Study? Then study. Write? Then write. You arrive with a goal, you leave with a product. The quiet gives you space to do that.

Library quiet is also distinctive in that it doesn't necessarily equal "peaceful." Concentration pulsates here. People come and go with purpose. You can feel the stress ebb and flow. This heightened tension only makes the code more inviolable.

To break it, then, is unforgivable. Imagine if I screamed right now for no reason. The librarian would scold me for sure. But the other patrons whose trains of thought I derailed would inflict much worse with their glares and grimaces. The energy in the room would shift from trust, to hurt, to anger. And just as I disrupted their needed silence, they would ruin mine.

So people who want soothing should visit the ocean in the early morning. Those who want to contemplate should sit in a cathedral pew on a weekday afternoon. But people who want unspoken expectations to motivate them ... they should set up shop among the shelves.

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