The Shushing Librarian

Should librarians still be expected to police the library and shush out any noise? I think that it depends on the type of library, but it appears from a Pew poll that the public still seeks out the solace of a library for its quiet nature.

A Salon article notes "[a] recent survey by the Pew Research Center, “Library Services in the Digital Age,” [which] polled a nationally representative sample of 2,252 Americans about what they get, and want, from public libraries. The two services that patrons regard as most essential in a library are 'librarians to help people find information' and 'borrowing books,' each rated as 'very important' by 80 percent of respondents. Next comes 'free access to computers and the Internet,' rated very important by 77 percent of those surveyed."

And "'[q]uiet study spaces for adults and children' comes in fourth. The percentage of people who consider quiet spaces to be a very important element in any public library is 76, only one percentage point less than the value given to computer and Internet access."

I work in a serious academic law library, which is very different from a public library. The law library is a place where the patrons expect a very quiet setting. Here's where things get hairy, though. Many libraries and librarians have to do more with less in today's economic climate. What that means is that when I am sitting at the reference desk, I have my hands full of all sorts of other work. I am researching for faculty, prepping for classes, reviewing articles, working on collection development, and trying to answer the random questions that come my way. If I am also expected to constantly police the room, the other important parts of my job suffer because there is just not enough hours in the day to complete it all.

So although I do think that a law library should be quiet, and librarians are in the best position to keep it quiet, the patrons should not be overly sensitive to the types of noise that are reasonable to the study of the law -- like typing, or pens clicking, or gum chewing (yes, this has really been a complaint), or chatter at the reference desk.

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