There’s more to quiet than decibels

In a recent Library Babel Fish post, the wise and always discerning Barbara Fister asks readers to consider for a brief moment the value of a quiet space in today’s society.

Libraries don’t bill themselves as quiet places these days. We like to think they are social, active, buzzing with energy, because that makes us seem vital and necessary. Besides, they often are noisy — noisy enough that students ask for areas to be set aside for quiet study. We set one of our three floors aside as a quiet floor years ago at the request of students. Some find it intimidatingly “serious,” but others gravitate to it at least for some of their study time. For students who don’t have a lot of quiet places in their lives, those spaces are particularly valuable.

Barbara Fister, Inside Higher Ed

We struggle with the same conflict where I work. The library is one of the busiest, most trafficked places on campus. We’re open late. We have a coffee shop. We host events sometimes daily. And my colleagues are a noisy bunch (proudly so!). And yet… students always ask us to police loud talkers, disruptive events, and other patrons who play music in their headphone too loudly.

We do what we can to address the noise. This continues to be an ongoing negotiation (There are headphones at the info desk!). However, there is one type of “noise” that we have stood firmly against: advertising. As one of the busiest places on campus, we often get requests from other units to “put up fliers in the library.” Sometimes, the flier and table-tents just show up (and are promptly recycled).

We have a policy against this. I like to think of it as a means toward reducing visual noise. When you walk into our library, you are not bombarded with visual stimuli: bright and flashy posters promoting campus events, clubs, scholarship deadlines, athletics, branding, or food options. These things are important (and we have a designated space where this material can go), but not when students are studying. Not in the spaces where they need focus. Not when they are in the library doing what they came to college to do: succeed academically and learn.

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