Dr Leslie Cannold writes in The Age today:
My own partisan view is that silence is a precious resource, however few value it, and at least some sections of all libraries must be places where quiet is found. After all, for those who wish to talk, the rest of the world is just beyond the library doors.
Certainly, false advertising at the State Library must stop. Library staff must either enforce their own rules about quiet or publicly admit defeat and withdraw them. It’s time to take a stand.
Dr Cannold writes in the article of her problems finding the silence within which she can work at the State Library of Victoria. As she says “Libraries are not just repositories of books but sacred spaces for research, creation and reflection.”
However for a number of other users (I would say the majority) that research, creation and reflection is no longer done by the majority of library users (not counting creative writers) alone but in unison with other people. This is especially in the case of university students (with whom most complaints arise) who are often required to work in groups and is the the outcome of a social and educational system which values cooperative work above lone achievement, and one could also posit work practices that value teamwork over results. The technologies used by today’s new users also invariable involve sound and interaction. While mobile phones and general chatting are mentioned here, there are also many users used to the very quiet scribbling of pen on paper, who find the tapping of laptop keys insanely annoying in a library, but banning that activity is not possible.
The answer as the author says is to have general reading rooms as well as quiet study areas or more preferably quiet rooms. The main reading room of the National Library is not generally loud and does not allow phone calls to continue, but a silence is not maintained. There are however a number of reading rooms, including a quiet one, to which users may go seeking real quiet.
Whether we can blame librarians for the noise at the State Library of Victoria is a different issue, the author of the article claims the staff are not doing their jobs in maintaining silence, I would question whether that is their job, does the Library say that it will maintain silence? I don’t ever recall that it was a stipulation of entry of any library that one must be quiet. Sure there are signs, in some, and all pretty much have signs saying mobile phone use is not allowed, but is general silence this enforceable, and is it the case at this particular library. I know that most public libraries no longer have a silence or a quite policy at all, I would be surprised if the State Library did.
And in fact if you go the Library’s website you can see this under theri list of services and rooms:
The Arts Reading Room houses the Library’s Arts Collection.
This room is one of the Library’s designated quiet areas, reserved for silent work and study. Mobile phones should be switched to silent. If you wish to make phone calls, have conversations or hold group study sessions, we recommend you use other Library areas, such as the Information Centre and Redmond Barry Reading Room.
But even if the Library did indeed indicate that its main reading room should be quiet. This would not make the issue one for the day to day librarians working there as it would be a regulations and security issue. Librarians are not around to shush people they are there to deliver reference and other useful assistance. In a quiet area anyone causing obviously unnecessary noise needs to be spoken to or otherwise dealt with by a member of the security staff.