The Importance of Library Etiquette

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.

Books, up close

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.

Hear ye! 16 thoughts — so far — on “The Importance of Library Etiquette”:

  1. Sarah Perry-Correia

    I must be lucky here in Boston because there is a no food or drink and no talking on cells policy at least in the central library which is the one I go too. The second floor there is as I understand it being reconfigured to make room for a community center section in one corner. But the library is filled mostly with people working (silently) on netbooks or laptops. Many researching something but many sitting and working. Which is fine. I’ve done this myself. It is a nice,quiet space with Wifi and a break from one’s home.

  2. Susan Abernethy

    I completely agree with you here Andrea. I recently went to a college library here in CO and it was nice and quiet. I also recently went to a Starbucks, used the WiFi and it was nice and quiet there. I got lots of work done!

  3. Pamela Womack

    I completely agree with you, and find it well-nigh impossible to complete research in my local libraries; even when using ear-plugs. Sadly, it seems that many libraries are indeed more like community centres- perhaps a reflection on the times in which we live.

  4. Anonymous Librarian

    I am a librarian and I see two things that commonly happen: (1) People get offended when I ask them to be quieter…I’ve actually had some patrons look straight at me and say “Who are you to tell me to be quiet?” And (2) often groups complaining about another group being noisy were being noisy themselves just a little while before, but once they settled down to work THEY wanted it quiet. Sometimes #1 and #2 are the same people.

  5. Chirs

    Sad that things are going this way in some libraries! My university has silent study areas on the upper levels of the library away from all the noise on the ground floor, which seems to work well. I do remember days when libraries were decidedly more quiet, however…

  6. Deborah Grant

    I don’t think I’ve seen anyone eating in my local public library but the noise level is unbelievable. I wish there was some way to reverse the trend.

  7. Helen Martin

    I was one of those primary school librarians, retired now for 7 years, but what I called common courtesy was certainly being inculcated. The public library I use, which has been cited as the most heavily used one in Canada, is full of teenagers doing homework and research, adults reading or working on laptops, and young children with parents. We have two floors with an almost enclosed children’s section on the main floor and an enclosed workroom for small groups in an upstairs corner. The place is quiet, even the children’s area, where I often go for a basic book on something about which I know nothing. The Vancouver main branch (I’m in B.C., Canada) is much larger (7 floors) and draws an extremely varied client group but, aside from a few ESL groups, there is no chatter going on. I wonder if part of it has to do with the staffing. Oh, and music? Not a chance. In earphones only. You have my sympathy but do visit and try out our facilities.

  8. Sarah Johnson

    My library in Scripps Ranch, California is quiet UNTIL the High School students arrive to hang out, do home work, wait for parents, etc. Then I notice the librarians and the older folk try to hush them up, but end up making more noise than the kids out of frustration. Putting libraries close to schools is an economy I don’t enjoy.

  9. Emme

    As a librarian, I come down on both sides. Libraries HAVE evolved into community centers, and there are aspects of that which are quite pleasing. But a big problem is that we are operating under new rules but in old buildings. For instance, my teen area (I am a teen librarian) is open to the rest of the library (because it is a repurposed area that used to hold something else), and I am out there shushing the teens 20 times per afternoon, which is annoying for both of us, but necessary given that they are adult- and study area-adjacent. I advocate for libraries to have dedicated areas for those who wish to work quietly and those who wish to socialize loudly, with soundproof walls between them! Someday…

  10. Lisbeth

    How right you are! I love the quietness of a library but it is not always like this anymore. To my great relief the library in Karlskrona, Sweden, where I am presently, still has a quiet library. After visiting the library today I wrote a small respond to your post, quoting you as well which I hope is ok.

  11. Lisa H.

    I’m more than a month late to this party, but I feel the need to rant..This really touches a nerve for me because like you, the library used to be my wonderful, beautiful introvert’s retreat. But no longer.

    About a year ago, I went to the library and saw/heard a child who was literally doing somersaults over the back of a chair, slamming his feet on the leather seat-BAM!-every time he landed. No one corrected him, including the boy’s parents.

    Then a few weeks ago I was quietly working on my laptop when I hear this…sucking noise. “No, it can’t be…” I thought. But yes, sure enough, I turn around and there is a couple hardcore making out behind me. This was during school hours, so either they were drop outs or seriously immature young adults.

    That’s not to mention all of the times I endured someone hacking and spitting loogies (ew, sorry) in the drinking fountain, listening to their music too loud on their cell phone, talking loudly to try to get attention, etc.

    I’m glad there are other bibliophiles who have noticed this trend, at least. Thank you to the librarians who say something to these foolish patrons. I’m sure it’s not easy to speak up.

    1. Andrea Zuvich (The 17th Century Lady) Post author

      Hello Lisa, your comments are welcome. It’s sad that this has come to pass – that librarians are in the position they are now in, and that people like us can’t enjoy a quiet library anymore. If this is what modern society has brought about, I don’t like it.

    2. T.J. Thomas

      One way I’ve dealt with this, and I know it’s not for everyone, is to video (or pretend to video) people doing things like this. If they get mad you can point out that this is a public place shared by other people. Or admittedly if they’re really annoying I say, “Too late. It’s already on YouTube.”


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