We all know the stereotype. When I say the word “librarian” everyone sees the bun wearing, shushing, stern woman. Jocasta Nu, the Chief Librarian of the Jedi Archives, has a bun. There is even a Librarian Action Figure with Amazing Shushing Action. So, if that is the stereotype, what happened to all the quiet in the library?
About 10 years ago libraries began to change, not just in Boone County but around the country. There is no one thing people want their libraries to be. They want their libraries to be lots of things, a place where they can study and meet with friends and attend meetings — and more. And different customers want different things.
The Pew Research Center published a report called, “Library Services in the Digital Age.” (You can access the whole report at http://libraries.pewinternet.org/files/legacy-pdf/PIP_Library%20services_Report.pdf) One of the questions asked, “What do you think is important for libraries to offer?” The top three answers were:
1. Librarians to help people
2. Books to borrow
3. Free access to computers and books
These answers didn’t surprise libraries. The answers that surprised them, were the fourth and fifth most popular responses. About 75% of respondents said they want quiet study spaces available, but a similar percentage said they want programs and classes for children and teens. One is a very quiet need and the other an unquiet service. The question for libraries becomes how do we balance these two very different needs?
Some of BCPLs locations are better designed to meet these conflicting requests. The Main Library and the Scheben Branch have smaller, independent study rooms. The children’s and teens’ areas are a more reasonable distance from areas designated as quiet zones. But older buildings, like Florence, Lents and Walton, do not always retrofit well to the changing needs of our library populations. One of the solutions we offer at these older, smaller locations is the use of the meeting room as a quiet space. If, at any time, you need a quiet place to study or read, please do not hesitate to ask at the desk. If we do not have programs scheduled these locations will open the meeting room for you.
Matthew Battles, author of Library: An Unquiet History, wrote, “In their long history, libraries have been models for the world and models of the world; they’ve offered stimulation and contemplation, opportunities for togetherness as well as a kind of civic solitude. They’ve acted as gathering points for lively minds and as sites of seclusion and solace. For making knowledge and sharing change, we still need such places…”
We know that quiet spaces are still an important part of what people expect from their libraries. Just as we know that people want libraries to be bustling centers of classes and workshops. Libraries in Boone County and across the nation are working to meet these two very different needs. We’d love to hear from you; what do you want your library to be? Quiet and sedate? Or busy and loud?
Carrie Herrmann has 26 years of experience in libraries, most of those in Northern Kentucky. A Graduate of University of Kentucky, Carrie is the Library Director for Boone County Public Library.