Here’s a blog post from the New York Times about the volume level in libraries nowadays:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/complaint-box-the-lost-library-voice/

FWIW, at our branch, we try our best to keep the library quiet and under control. That means when we see people talking on cell phones, we ask them to use them outside. If we see kids running, we tell them to stop. If we see them eating, we tell them to put the food away or take it outside.  But the patrons still eat in the library; they’ve just learned to hide it from us. It’s only because of my superlative hearing that I know when a bag of chips or a can of soda is being opened somewhere out of my line of vision and I’m able to go and track the culprit down. We tell people to take the phones outside when we see or hear them talking on phones, but Skype calls are becoming a new thorn in our side. Because people can use laptops anywhere in the building (either the laptops they check out from us or the ones they bring from home), we don’t realize that they’re on Skype until they start talking / laughing / swearing / singing / whatever. And then there’s a weird dynamic because “please use the phone outside” and “please use the laptop outside” are two entirely different things.

And in the afternoons when school dismissal time comes around, all bets are off when it comes to noise control. That’s because most of the kids and teens who flood into the building come in sans parents, and a lot of the parents who DO come in with their children do little to no disciplining. When I’m covering the information desk in the children’s room on a weekday afternoon, I spend less than half of my time actually answering information questions. That’s because I spend most of my time playing policewoman. I tell kids to stop running, stop eating, stop congregating around the computers, stop making noise, OVER AND OVER AGAIN. But the problem is ongoing, because most of these kids are latchkey kids who come to the library every day after school. Their parents tell them to go to the library and stay there until it’s time to go home or be picked up.  As librarians, we have little actual power other than our ability to remotely end their computer appointments when they don’t follow the rules, or to call their parents if they repeatedly disobey the rules.  But that only works IF we know their library card numbers, IF their contact information is still valid, and IF the parents actually care enough to correct their children’s behavior.

I thought that a lot of the comments on the NYT post were really on point.  Especially the ones about how libraries nowadays are providing more services to try to draw patrons into the building and boost circulation statistics.  Those include a variety of popular programs and popular materials, as well as computer and wi-fi access.  I completely empathize with patrons who wish that the library was quieter, because *I* wish it was quieter.  I also wish that people didn’t share their personal phone calls on buses, in restaurants, and everywhere else that I would like to be able to hear myself think.  And finally, I wish that parents would discipline their kids once in a while and not leave it up to us.

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