Blogger Kirsten Caldwell

Should Libraries be Quiet?

For years, debates have raged over the appropriate volume levels in libraries. Should they maintain a serene quiet, with librarians ready to shush any loud disruptions? Perhaps there could be designated quiet zones for those seeking focused study, while allowing for a slightly livelier atmosphere in areas designated for children. The time of librarians expecting hushed whispers from children as they browse the stacks seems to have passed.

Libraries have evolved into more than bookshelves and are now community centers, where people gather for meetings and activities, with some noise becoming an integral part of the experience, particularly in areas catering to children. As librarians, we strive to foster a love of learning in families and children. While reading is central, we also aim to cultivate lifelong learners through interactive experiences.

The Every Child Ready to Read initiative emphasizes talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. I would argue that these activities inherently involve making noise and should thus be embraced as part of the library atmosphere. Many libraries now offer dedicated play areas with educational toys, puppets, coloring stations, blocks, scavenger hunts, and more. These encourage families to engage in enriching activities together.

Spring scavenger hunt items. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Caldwell.

In addition to these important library spaces for children, children’s programming has also become more common. STEAM programs, storytimes, and various other activities are frequently provided for families. Smaller libraries may lack designated programming spaces and may defer to having storytime in the children’s area. Reading and singing songs together are lively and engaging activities, not quiet ones.

Although I love a loud and lively children’s section, ideally, libraries are large enough to have space for adults to work or read quietly. Study rooms, meeting rooms, or an adult corner of the library are generally quieter spaces with rules about noise levels, allowing people to focus.

I don’t think that libraries will or should go back to being places where the librarian tells you to be quiet for raising your voice a bit. The Washington post has an amazing article by Karen MacPherson about this very topic.

What do you think? Should libraries be quiet?

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