I’m sad that I even need to write on this topic, but I feel I must. Ask any of my closest friends, and they will tell you I am a very patient, ‘long-suffering’ person, so if I am compelled to speak out about something it is only because I’ve been pushed too far.
As a person who spends a huge amount of time in libraries in several countries, I feel certain that I have noticed that there is trend – the lack of respect in libraries now. It is vital that libraries are quiet places where researchers can concentrate on their work. When I was growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, I never encountered this type of problem before. It was a given that in a library one would use a library voice. Even those who rarely picked up a book knew and respected this.
Now, in the “Look at Me” culture that seems to dominate, many people disregard basic courtesy and respect for other patrons. If anyone objects to this, they are ridiculed as being hoity-toity and old-fashioned. To highlight this, I tweeted about this yesterday, only to receive abuse from precisely those who would be loud and obnoxious in libraries.
What is to be done to combat this worrying trend? As I type, I am in a state-of-the-art library, containing an immense collection of extremely good books and there are adults jabbering away loudly on their mobiles, others are engaged in full volume (and long) conversations, schoolgirls screaming and running around like banshees, and one guy is listening to his music really loudly. I’m sitting here, unable to concentrate, despite having my (now mandatory) earplugs in. This would have been unthinkable twenty years ago.
I’m not saying you cannot talk in a library, of course, all I want – and expect – in a library is for other people to be considerate of those around them. I wouldn’t dream of doing anything that would be bothersome to those around me, let alone talk at full volume.
I understand things are different now to what they were several years ago. I spoke to a librarian recently about this, and she was just as upset. ‘With the cutbacks and cheap books on Amazon, we’ve become more of a community centre instead of library.’ The computer keyboard at a previous library was coated in crumbs because some bright soul had decided to eat a sandwich on top of it. We used to not be able to eat in libraries at all. Another change.
I have observed that many people now simply do not have a reverence for books as I do, and as other book lovers do. Perhaps this accounts for their lack of respect? I know not everyone is a bibliophile, and I don’t expect everyone to be, but libraries used to be this special place where the bookish could retreat into a space of their own. Now the trendy folks are in there as well, on their iPhones and laptops because there is often free WIFI in libraries now. (I also use this, but I never have my music on so loud as to cause a nuisance to others!).
This may be a sweeping generalisation but it seems that some of the attention-seeking people have more of a love for themselves than for the books and knowledge that libraries are supposed to be for. I don’t know… I had some wonderful teachers in primary school who inculcated in me a reverence for books, and in that reverence, one was supposed to speak quietly. It’s all about respect.
I believe libraries are for everyone provided they are considerate to those around them and follow the basic rules of library etiquette!
So, if you truly appreciate the historical value of libraries, of learning, I beg you all to help change this. As a society, we can stop this issue of disrespect. Thank you for reading.