Sung J. Woo writes in The New York Times’ Complaint Box about the “lost library voice” and how she reminisces of a bygone era when “the only sounds [in the library] were shuffles, whispers and the occasional shush—delivered with an index finger crossing the lips of a bespectacled, cardigan-wearing librarian.”
She wonders, “when did libraries become a cacophonous combination of café, video store, music store, computer lab and playground?”
I feel ya, sister.
Recently I went to the Melbourne City Library in Flinders Lane, thinking I would spend the day catching up on reading and preparing for the launch of this blog. Oh, how wrong I was.
For some unbeknownst reason, there is a café next to the entrance, the sounds from which carry up the stories and into my cosy (and by cosy, I mean not-so-cosy; air-conditioning in winter? I don’t think so!) little study bubble, permeating my concentration. If I wanted to listen to the clatter of a restaurant kitchen, I’d go to one. Next time, I think I’ll just stay home.
Woo relays the story of “two teenage girls” who “clamped on headphones and proceeded to talk to each other while enjoying their music. Have you ever tried conversing with someone wearing Princess Leia-like headphones?” No, no I haven’t. ’Cause when I’m hanging out with friends, I want to hang out with them, not their iPods.
Hilariously, this problem transfers to adolescent internet usage at the library. “… they log onto the public computers to watch their favourite YouTube videos while opening up 15 windows of Instant Messenger. They may be quietly typing ‘LOL’, but they are also literally laughing out loud.”
Another phenomenon libraries have been experiencing is the “urban sprawl”, where the homeless move away from the big cities and to the outer suburbs to utilise their facilities, namely libraries. While this is all well and good if they’re being used for educational and legitimate recreational reading/listening/watching/internetting purposes, the majority of the time libraries are being used as a sleeping place, a place to look at inappropriate web content, and a place to come in from the cold.
I have personally experienced this at my home town’s local library. I had an hour or so to kill before meeting a friend, so I decided to duck into the library to read an online magazine. I picked a computer that had two free ones on either side, which was a mistake in itself. I should have picked one in between two normal-looking folks. So I’m happily absorbed in my magazine, when a shabbily-dressed, low attention-spanned young man in need of some deodorant sat next to me. We each stole glances at the others’ screen; he gawked at pictures of models on my screen while I grimaced as he audibly attempted to secure an online date. Oh, the people you meet, hey?!
Again, I have no problem with libraries being used for the purposes they’re intended for by a wide range of people, but to borrow a phrase from a psychologist who recently ran a “Dealing with Difficult Customers” seminar at my workplace, libraries “are not your home/bedroom/kitchen/bathroom” etc., so you shouldn’t be having sex/eating/grooming/having domestic issues in them!
However, I have been guilty of not using my “library voice” a time or two. At the aforementioned home town library, I happened to bump into a friend whilst visiting for the weekend. It was very serendipitous as she now lives only blocks away from me in the western suburbs of Melbourne. As it was almost closing time and not many people around, we chatted about work, love, life for a good 15 minutes, throwing caution to the wind. Were we abusing the purpose of the library? Perhaps, but what about the children?
This is a common argument between the haves and haves not (children, that is); remember on Sex & the City when Samantha was at a restaurant on her cell phone, when the waiter asked her to put it away as they don’t allow them inside. Samantha obliged, but retorted with “well, what are you going to do about that?”, pointing to a child slopping around his pesto. The waiter responded, “that’s a child”; basically, there’s nothing to be done about a child. I believe this was also the episode in which Carrie perceived she was being punished for not having—nor wanting—children when her $400 Manolo’s were stolen from a baby shower.
Woo continues: “… Tykes are burning up the carpet. I cannot remember the last time I went to my library when children were not playing hide-and-seek in the stacks, shrieking as they chased one another.”
And where are the parents? “Nowhere to be seen.”
Oh, I hear you! My life revolves around a good book, in a nutshell, so whenever I get the chance to peacefully sit down with one outside my home, I do not want to be overhearing my carriage-mate’s iPod, especially if it’s a song I recognise (SexyBack, anyone?). I do not want to be sitting in a café, trying to tune out when a mothers club meeting is commencing at the table next to me, especially if one of the children has the same name as me. And I certainly do not want to be approached by the crazies on the tram/train/bus/library/park bench seat/cafe table/anywhere basically, especially when I’m trying to read!