A mother in the Basalt Library strolls past me, her school-age son running behind her yelling something about a new game. His mother glances at me and then turns to him talking with her outside voice. She does not attempt to teach him how to behave in the library or point out the people who are working, reading and researching around them. Instead, the child continues to run and yell, while his mother matches his volume, word for word, for everyone to hear. I try to readjust my focus to the open document in front of me but can’t help but ask myself, what ever happened to the idea of quiet libraries?
Let’s start by making two things clear – I love children, and I love the Basalt Library. In fact, I wrote an entire children’s book in the Basalt Public Library. I finished a novel there, and when I find myself daydreaming through those large glass windows onto the Roaring Fork River, I imagine actually publishing said novel and thanking the Basalt Library for all the hours of refuge and thinking and writing and imagining I can do when I’m there.
And then a screaming kid runs by, hiding from his friends in the nonfiction collection.
When I was a child, I too spent many afternoons at my local public library, and I was taught that the privilege to be there was something special. Not because we were there to be entertained (they did have a chinchilla I adored), but it was because we were there to – wait for it – read!
If things got rowdy, which when left to our own devices, they always did, the librarians would walk over and “shush” us, which is now a four-letter word. When that didn’t work, they’d threaten to kick us out. When we got older and we needed all those microfiche and research catalogues, the threat of expulsion from the library had some weight. We needed those documents – there was no other way.
Now, with access to most everything from home, perhaps librarians no longer have leverage to ask children – or adults for that matter – to be quiet. The model for libraries is changing into more of a community center, and I’m OK with that, too. There are video games and other programs to bring kids in and keep them there, to keep libraries relevant for the next generations. Expanding the patronage, making everyone feel welcome is vital. Basalt doesn’t have many public amenities, like a rec center or youth center, so the library must do and be all. But if I wanted to try and read, write, research, think, daydream, create and contemplate around chaos, I might as well just stay home.
I’ve tried to adjust to this new style of library and adopt the policy of anything goes. I bring earbuds and noise canceling headphones but I still can’t concentrate when there is a library full of kids whose parents may never teach them to respect the people around them or respect an institution that is one of the greatest, if not greatest assets our community will ever have.
What is the solution? Does it mean putting doors on the kids’ rooms, making the large community room the place for teens to play video games or simply just hang out in the afternoon?
There is actually a lot of space in the atrium and the community room at Basalt Library, perfect for young kids to be social and as loud as they want to be.
Perhaps there can be a way to have both at Basalt Library – a place for deep, undisturbed thinking for those who need it and a safe place for kids to gather. Or, we can keep things as they are and instead ask parents to model and reinforce the rules of a quiet library for their children, so it remains the coveted asset we know and love – a place we can all share.