Nov 6, 2008

On Noisy Libraries and the Decline of Decorum

No longer a place for solitude and study

Given the rather busy environment in my office area - coupled with my need to do some research on my dissertation - I sought out what I believed would be a quiet refuge in the university library. Surely in the library I would find the relative solace by which I am better able to think on days in which I am sleep-deprived.

Of course, with the first floor of the University of Toledo's Carlson Library converted to a digital commons, I did not expect to find a noiseless environment among hundreds of AIM-using, mp3-downloading, and WoW-playing undergrads. I chose instead the third floor, which used to be my favorite tranquil respite.

Unfortunately, a group of boisterous young men engaged in everything except quiet study, and the crinkling of potato chip bags and tinny hip-hop beats from a laptop computer proved to be deal-breakers for me. Next stop: fourth floor.

This area, though, contained quite a few young women with cell phone conversations and giggled collective discourse about recent parties. I tried moving to a more secluded corner, only to be interrupted by some clod on another cellphone: "Hey. What y'all doin'? Yeah. Yeah. That shit smells rank, dog! Yeah. Yeah. I'm bout to jet. Yeah. Hunh! A-i-i-e-e-e-t!"

The fact that the dolt was a skinny white kid with dreadlocks only heightened my irritation at the intrusion: can there be a more ridiculous hairstyle than a suburban dude trying to look like Peter Tosh circa 1976? By the way, kid: the word is pronounced "STAIR-oids," not "STEER-oids," you semi-literate cretin, and most intelligent folks do not pronounce the word "feel" as they do "fill." Your repeated use of the phrase "Ah FILL you, bro" might be misinterpreted as a statement of sexual desire - just some information in case you ever want to engage in self-improvement.

I finally found an open group study room and closed the door to insulate myself from the uproar, achieving an hour's worth of peace. Yet I regretted the fact that I did not have the foresight to bring with me a set of earplugs to drown out the noise of hundreds of boorish, self-absorbed twits who believe that the library is just another location for social gathering, and whose utter disregard for the handful of people actually studying speaks volumes about the me-first attitude of too many Americans.

Now, I am far from a library purist, or one of those noise Nazis who used to populate public libraries, shoosh-ing even the slightest unintentional sound from a fidgety eight-year-old. I do not expect total silence, nor do I frown upon the occasional quiet conversation between library patrons. Heck - I even smile when I am at the public library and I see some parent with a screaming urchin, recalling the days when my progeny disrupted someone else's reverie.

However, the noise level at the library today by students who ought to know better bordered on the sort of dull clamor one might expect in a shopping mall or in the concourse of a sports arena, punctuated with occasional yelling voices and the beeps, chirps, and song snippets from electronic devices.

Am I a social anachronism, a person so out of step with a changing world as to seem a curmudgeonly throwback? Or is this lack of library civility and decorum evidence of a larger decline in human interaction, a bellwether of civilizational degradation?

Or should I just keep searching for a serene corner and spend more energy on tuning out the rowdy louts?


Hooda Thunkit said...


Face it, the cretins are winning :-(

Jorge said...

You are definitely not a social anachronism, so yes: we are in front of a degradation of good manners, politeness and respect. We can add that most of people even does not understand what takes researching and why academic libraries are so important for us. The only thing I can tell you is that I have been in libraries of Scotland, Spain and the United States and everywhere is the same, and it is sad.

Valbee said...

You should not keep searching. You should go to the circulation desk and report it. The library has rules. No food. No cell phones except in elevator lobbies or out on the concourse. But there are times when our student population needs reminding. That's where library staff come in. We can't be everywhere at once, but if you let us know, we'll do our best to help you!

SensorG said...


When did you get old? Next thing you'll be yelling at kids to get off your lawn. :)

Anonymous said...

Mike, the public library where I live is sometimes like what you described. Teens chatting loudly, using phones, hitting each other (playfully). They used to let kids into a computer room after school, but then could no longer get any adults to go through the torture of trying to maintain order so they no longer let any kids into the room. It shocked me when I moved to this community and saw the behavior. It's as if the teens think they're at a fast food restaurant.

Oh, and kids should stay off the lawn. I'm just sayin'...

Mad Jack said...

My first thought is that this behavior comes from a lack of respect for those around you coupled with apathy and tolerance on the part of the people you share immediate space with. On reflection, I'm not so sure I'm right.

The age group of the people polluting the atmosphere with their noise is generally between the ages of ten and thirty. I discount children under ten as they are largely subject to the control of the parents. Anyone over thirty found inside a library is likely either at work or doing their own research. Rarely will you find a person over thirty at the library for pleasure. In any case, the over thirty crowd are quiet, so we may ignore them for the time being.

Consider that a quiet environment is generally found with solitude. Single handed sailors experience this condition, as do some hikers and explorers. You are alone with your own thoughts for periods of time, and the noise of what we believe to be civilization is absent. Some people can't tolerate this for very long, and still others can't tolerate solitude at all. Consider the child punished by being sent to his room. The child confined alone is (presumably) miserable and wants out, but not all children react this way. Those that do grow up to be group-seeking noise makers. A quiet area reminds them of solitude, which is pure punishment. The background noise of civilization is comforting, and if a little is good, a lot is better. Kids who somehow fail to learn to abhor quiet and solitude grow up to become bookish sorts who are apt to pursue knowledge for its own sake. They'll get books for their birthday and Christmas and begin to accumulate a private library. Somewhere along the line their parents may have learned that shutting little Mikey up in a room full of books as punishment for setting the carpet on fire again may not be having the desired affect. But perhaps not.

The young noise polluters aren't aware of what they're doing. It's easy to believe that even if they were aware of the audio pollution they cause, they either wouldn't care or their misplaced sense of entitlement would cause them to increase the pollution. I've seen the same attitude with smokers; their right to smoke supersedes anyone else's right to clean air and the absence of respiratory irritations brought on by cigarette smoke. Again, I'm not certain that this is the entire case here. I believe it may be more accurate to say that the polluters are not aware that they are the source of pollution and are unable to understand the amount of misery they are causing. Nor are they likely to understand the peace of mind that a very quiet environment helps bring about. The worst of this is that it isn't just their loss. It's my loss too.

I'd like to see a return of the noise police in libraries and other places. Libraries should have some sort of initialization procedure that accompanies receipt of a library card and admission to the upper levels. People are expected to be very quiet and well-behaved, and refrain from using their cell phones and various other noise making devices. I would also enjoy a return of fine dining, complete with dress code and removal of rude patrons or patrons with unruly children.

I won't hold my breath.

My friend, whom we'll call Tommy (not his real name), has a practical solution for excessive noise. Tommy resorts to physical violence. Tommy is black, muscular and hates rap music. Actually, Tommy just hates noise. Tommy's method is to approach the perpetrator and demand that they turn their music off. Not down, off. Anything other than immediate and enthusiastic compliance dictates that the fight is now on. I think I should mention here that Tommy supplements his income by a certain amount of freelance work. Tommy beats people up for money. No, I'm not kidding. Tommy also spends time in jail and thinks nothing of it.

So, you see, if anyone from the local library would like some help enforcing the rules, I'll be happy to pass your contact information along to Tommy. You may not agree with his methods, but you will agree with the results.

FrontierGhost said...

Too quote the kid on his cell phone, "Ah fill ya bro!" lol!

NAU's library is an incredibly popular social space as well. The only difference is that the librarians and research staff are usually the loudest and most annoying. Nothing like hearing a couple of old librarians talking about what they had for lunch at the top of their voices.
Likewise, the student workers are an annoying presence since most of them talk on their cell phones while making their rounds and rather than quiet large noisy groups, they usually know the offenders and join them.
I am starting to scare myself a little with how confrontational I have become in my quest for a quieter library.

Research institutions my ass! These kids and librarians are actively engaged in the production of a new type of social space rooted in some of my favorite study locations.

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain (and hear the clamor). That being said, I am chagrined at your correspondent Mad Jack, a fellow that seems to find violence the answer to all of life's difficulties. I suggest that he (perhaps with your assistance) try to keep the discussion civil...not resulting to guns and religion when pressed by the exigencies of being. Indeed, silence is golden.

Tim Higgins said...


As you have already discovered from the comments, you are far from an anachronism. There has been a loss of good manners, respect, and common decency in recent years and it can be annoying. Couple that with a current generation nursed on the mother's milk of self esteem and immediate gratification, and the best you could hope for is probably the result that you achieved.

It is a sad but true commentary, and one that is not likely to change as the worst offenders are those least susceptible to correction.

Robert Kernodle said...


You can read my total commentary at the following website:

It's about a fifteen minute read, if you read the whole thing.