The classic stereotype of a librarian is a plain female with hair in a bun and wearing a dowdy dress who shushes anyone speaking above a whisper. This dated view of librarians is still very much with us, to a great extent because, sadly, it still occurs in many places. Should libraries be silent? Do you like it quiet? Do your students? I associate a hushed library environment with those large libraries with vast expanses of books visible on multi-levels with aging researchers buried over huge tomes. Certainly not the picture of a modern school (or public library).
A 21st century library is a bee-hive of collaborative activity, with students moving seamlessly from electronic to print resources using multiple devices to access them. True, not every library approaches this level, but it should be what we are aiming to achieve. Students are comfortable learning from each other and sharing what they know. In fact – they love it. It’s how they develop skills in video games and discover new tricks and apps on their smartphones.
They are accustomed to a world of continuous information feeds whether audio or text. We need to capitalize on that inclination to learn by teaching them how to become global citizens, creating content, and building knowledge which they share in a participatory culture. And that means, silent libraries are part of the past (or exist only in research libraries).
I am not advocating for a loud, out-of-control environment. You should be able to be heard if you raise your voice just above normal speaking level. That’s a safety issue. I am also not talking about a library where kids are horsing around. On the other hand, all talk does not need to be work-related. Some socialization is acceptable and even important if they are to move from casual conversation to exploring their ideas, interests, and academic pursuits.
My libraries, both elementary and high school, were always a hubbub of activity – and the busy sounds – and energy – it entails. A visiting superintendent was so impressed to see how engaged students were and how crowded the library was. This was during lunch period (we were on block scheduling and managed a one-hour lunch for all 1,500 students simultaneously). It was not a quiet place. But learning was happening everywhere.
Many of you already have this level of activity – and “noise” in your library. Kids love coming there. You have made your library the warm, friendly, environment that encourages questions, accepts diverse ideas and opinions, and promotes the desire to learn.
Elementary librarians are more inclined to keep noise levels down. I suspect it’s caused by the fear that students would quickly become unruly and hard to rein in. The answer is to change the culture of the library with their cooperation.
Students need to be a part of setting the rules and guidelines. Talk about the difference between noise in the classroom and noise in the library. What is good noise? When does it become too much? What needs to be done if students become too loud? I have found it best to talk to those students individually or the small group causing the disturbance rather than loudly addressing everyone.
Consider couching these guidelines under the heading of Respect. Respect for yourself, respect for others, and respect for the library. If at all possible provide a quiet area (much like trains today with their quiet cars) for those who need more silence to get work done. Most often it’s the teachers who need it.
What do you think is the optimum level of noise vs. silence? Is your library too quiet? Too noisy? What do your students think? What do you want to change? And what help do you need to get to this new level?