Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Daily Sentinel: Modern libraries
 gathering spots, dynamic places 
to learn more

By Amy Hamilton
Friday, October 7, 2016

When was the last time you were shushed in the library?

Can you even remember when you last saw a librarian fixate her gaze on a noisy offender, place one finger to pursed lips, and let out an admonishing, “Shhhhh!”

Indeed, while folks of a certain age can recall the shaming that forced people to whisper and tiptoe among the bookshelves, local libraries of today no longer are silent tombs to warehouse books.

Nor do local librarians expect patrons to use libraries in absolute silence.

In the Mesa County Library, there are many study rooms if one needs quiet.

According to Bob Kretschman, spokesman for Mesa County Public Libraries, this somewhat recent trend in allowing acceptable levels of noise in the library sometimes takes patrons aback.

Pat Posner of Florida makes a call on her cellphone in the cell booth at the  Mesa County Library. She is visiting her family in Grand Junction and signing up her grandchildren with library cards.

“We don’t shush people. It’s not your classic shush,” he said. “It’s a product of libraries evolving, providing a lot more services and events. They have become a community gathering place, and you get conversations with that. That didn’t used to be the case with libraries.”

Kretschman said if someone seems to be calling attention to himself or herself, or being too loud in the library (“too loud” admittedly being a term that is difficult to define, he said) librarians will ask that person to take the conversation outside. And, if your cellphone rings inside the library, etiquette suggests people talk quietly, take the call outdoors or converse in one of the enclosed cellphone booths inside the library. That’s because people tend to talk louder on their cell-phones than in face-to-face interactions, Kretschman said.

“A library is a place where a lot more happens than people sitting there reading in a solitary endeavor,” he said. “It is a social meeting place for some people. We do encourage groups to meet here and share the exchange of ideas. It’s not your library of old.”

This new trend caught Tammy Tallant off guard.

Tallant, now an attorney in Palisade, was seeking a quiet space last summer to study for the bar exam.

She visited several branches of the Mesa County Library expecting solace, but was greeted by staff members at the door in full conversational tone. People were talking openly inside the library and children ran around, playing. Tallant said after she complained about the noise, she was told of the library’s new direction and staff suggested Tallant use a study room if she wanted a quiet zone. Tallant said the study rooms at the Palisade branch are quite large, too big for one person, and they were often booked with groups.

“I’m just amazed it went from one extreme to the other and that the staff really are the ones utilizing and encouraging this policy, by a greeting as if you were in a retail clothing store,” Tallant said. “I had to wear ear plugs in the library.”

Tallant said she thinks the reasoning behind the rising noise levels in libraries is “absurd,” that libraries are now considered community spaces, rather than just libraries.

“I feel like bookstores are more quiet,” she said. “Maybe (libraries) should have quiet days or times, like pools have lap times.”

What Libraries Are Today

According to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center, people want libraries to be lots of things and offer an abundance of services, in addition to being a quiet place to study.

The Pew study surveyed 2,252 people over age 16. Offering a quiet place to study came in fourth place of what people think is the most important role for libraries. The top three things included having librarians help people find information, being able to borrow books, and offering free access to computers and the internet.

In another question, researchers asked what services and programs libraries should offer. The top two answers included coordinating more with local schools and offering free literacy programs. People also reported wanting separate spaces for different services, followed by having more comfortable spaces.

Increases in programming at libraries apparently is working at drawing patrons. The American Library Association reported that in 2012, 92.6 million people attended the four million programs offered by public libraries. That number represented a 54.4 percent increase in attendance of programs over the previous 10-year span.

For sure, the Mesa County Public Libraries system has increased its programs over the years, and it also provides a number of rooms for groups to gather behind closed doors.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon at the main branch, the tenor inside was fairly quiet. People sitting along the upper balcony of the fiction room read books or sat wordlessly at desks hunched over laptops. Inside the children’s area, a mother played Twister with her son during a games segment, and at one point a child’s outburst briefly pierced the air. Dozens of people worked silently at computer terminals downstairs; the only real noise was the clicking of keyboards. An archeology group gathered in a study room to make last-minute plans on their weekend conference, one woman tutored another woman learning a new language and several employees of a private company closed a study door to talk about business deals.

Friends Daniel Duke, 18, and Devon Peña, 17, relaxed in the downstairs history room on roomy, upholstered leather chairs. They seek out the room specifically because it seems to be one of the library’s quietest corners, they said.

Peña was looking for job applications on his phone because one of the computer rooms was temporarily unavailable and Duke appeared to be playing games on his phone. The two said they have been visiting the library regularly and noticed, in general, that older folks seemed to be quieter at the library.

“I think they respect that it’s a library and so they’re a lot quieter,” Duke said.

However, some people, probably those of a younger set, may never have known a silent library.

During some events in the popular teen reading room, librarians shut the doors for well-attended book clubs, and puppet shows in the children’s area attract so many toddlers that parents are sometimes hard-pressed to find space on the carpet to unfurl their legs.

Trying to temper people’s excitement for being at the library doesn’t jibe with the library’s goals, librarian Ike Rakiecki said.

“If people bring their kids, they’re going to be loud. We want to be welcoming, too,” he said.

“If we’re saying your kids need to be quiet, that’s not very welcoming.”

CMU Library Buzzine, Too

A similar philosophy prevails at Colorado Mesa University’s Tomlinson Library.

At about 9 a.m. on a recent Thursday, a surprising number of students already were absorbed in their studies at tables, or were seated while reading in chairs.

On the downstairs level, a small food court offers pizzas and burritos. The whir of an espresso machine and dinging of cash registers is the first sound that greets students as they enter.

Library Director Sylvia Rael said students lobbied for the option to order and eat food in the library, new additions after major renovations were completed last year.

Still, some students complained about the noise created by Einstein Bros. Bagel shop, as the restaurant was essentially located near studying students. The university installed a glass wall to create some separation and that has mostly quelled those concerns, Rael said.

Sierra Creen, a senior studying political science, had found one of several quiet rooms on the library’s third floor.

Creen didn’t mind that the lower levels of the library were open for people to talk louder, in conversational tones. She also said she appreciated the “community center-like” atmosphere the library has adopted.

But the silence is what attracted her to the library on this day.

“I do study better in quieter environments,” she said. “I like coffee shops for studying, but it’s more for mindless stuff that I don’t need to think too much about.”

Rael said the goal of the library is to embrace the myriad ways students learn and that means using technology, a wide swath of online resources and group discussions — not just traditional printed books. Having several different kinds of spaces that offer the opportunity for quiet and sharing ideas encourages more library use, which is the intent.

“I think the idea that people really miss the library being quiet is generational,” she said. “I want to be welcoming, that’s my goal.”

Even Rael — who is a career librarian and once worked in a seminary library where seminarians complained the mostly silent library wasn’t quiet enough — said she has had to retrain herself not to whisper in the library.

“Sometimes staff are the loudest, and students are giving us the stink eye,” she laughed. “Sometimes I have to restrain myself to be quiet.”

Source: The Daily Sentinel

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