Welcome to the Library! Now, Please Shut Up.

7 Nov

Naperville is supposed to have the best library in America. Now, I’m sure that this ranking is determined in such a way that there are at least three asterisks. Still, it’s a pretty good library. There are three branches, all of them fairly convenient to my house. I can check out a book from any branch and return it to any other. They even have these totally automated checking out thingies that make cool beeping noises when you scan your books. When I go to the library alone, I get a secret thrill over not having to share the scanning fun with my kids.

We use the library at lot since we’ve been trying to live like church mice instead of fat cats. Just about every book or movie we want is there for the picking. Even if we have to wait a bit, the online hold system will let us know the minute our media is available. My son has assembled a large enough music collection that he believes he is entitled to an iPod with a much larger memory. I laugh at him.
Even with all of its wonderful conveniences, I miss the library of my childhood. It probably didn’t have near as many books; I don’t recall it being all that big. The catalog was kept on index cards. The music was all on vinyl. I have a particularly fond memory of my sister, headphones on, belting out “da na na na na na na na” for the entire library’s amusement while she listened to the theme song from “Peter Gunn.”

The fact that my sister could cause a ruckus gets to the root of my problem with the Naperville Public Library.

It’s loud.

The library my sister and I used as children was quiet. It was as quiet as, well, a library. One strolled the stacks silently. If you happened to be at the library with a friend, or sister, hand signals and really exaggerated mouthing of words stood in for talking. Whispering was reserved for communications at the circulation desk. Any noise louder than a sniffle was met with a “Sh!,” hissed from the nearest librarian.

Walk into the Naperville Public Library and you would hardly know you are walking into a library. There are people talking in the lobby. There are people talking at the library catalog computers. There are people talking in the stacks. There are people talking at the tables. And they are all talking with their regular talking voices.

This is how bad things are at the Naperville Public Library: there is a Quiet Reading Room. Having a quiet reading room in a library is kind of like having a coffee drinking room in a Starbucks. I understand why they need the room, though. People talk on their cell phones in my library.

When my son was little, we went to the library often. I would take him to the children’s department and read him books. See, it’s ok to read books—quietly—in the children’s department. Lots of the kids can’t read yet. Even when they can read to themselves, kids still like to be read to. I like to be read to. I don’t think you’ve had the complete Harry Potter experience until you’ve had the books read to you by Jim Dale.

At the risk of sounding like a crank, parents today just don’t care about proper library manners. My kids make fun of me when I talk like this. My son sucks in his lips and pokes out his lower jaw, giving himself an oldman-ish toothless grin. Then he says, “Back in my time . . .” It’s very funny and I get his point, but when it comes to libraries, I’m not bending.
Back in my time, children didn’t scream in the library, even in the children’s department. They didn’t run in the library either, or chase their siblings. Elderly patrons didn’t fear for their hips because a rug rat could come barging out the front door at any minute. And parents didn’t shout at their children to get them to stop running.

Back in my time, no one wrote in a library book. I’ve checked out books that I really wanted to read and found it impossible because some blockhead thought it would be ok to write in the book. Even though said blockhead wrote very lightly and in pencil, as if that would make it ok, my eye was inexorably drawn to whatever blockhead had underlined. Reading the book became an exercise in analyzing blockhead, pondering who would underline this particular sentence when I would have underlined that one. I knew it was time to return the book when I became angry that blockhead didn’t see the book my way.

Back in my time, no one dog-eared pages. I once thought that the books I was reading that looked like they’d been to the kennel were used books, maybe donated by some charitable book lover. Recently, though, I checked out a brand-spanking new volume that was still on the best-seller list. I know the library got this book fresh. There were dog-eared pages. For crying out loud, ANYTHING can be a bookmark. Sure, fancy bookmarks are fun but a magazine subscription card works as well. So does a Target receipt or even an unwrapped mini-pad.

I realize that everyone in Naperville pays taxes to support the library, but, people, that doesn’t mean you own the books, can talk in the stacks or can let your kids use it as a playground. While I refer to the library as “my library,” I know that I share it with hundreds of thousands of other people. Back in my time, everyone knew that.

10 Responses to “Welcome to the Library! Now, Please Shut Up.”

  1. thewaiting November 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

    Thank you for this! I totally agree about the ridiculous noise level at libraries today. A few months ago I was reading at the library and in the kid section (which is only separated from the rest of the library by half-stacks), some genius had decided to erect a child-sized fire truck for the kiddies to crawl and get rambunctious on. Niiiiiiice. My husband was there one Saturday and there was a clown performing in the dead center of the library, full-volume. Seriously? Like you, when I was a kid, I totally remember getting shushed for speaking at a barely audible level at the library. I guess I’m just old skool.

    • jmlindy422 November 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      And thanks back at you for the kind words. The clown thing is hilarious, but I really love the fire truck sculpture.

  2. delicio8 November 22, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Hahaha! I’ve used Target recipes and mini pads as book marks too! I respect library books and wouldn’t dare dogear, oh I’ve used bandaids too. I read in the bathroom alot! My own personal books can be dog eared and left open, these are signs of a well loved book in a home. But a LIBRARY book (sacred hush) is to be shared and loved by all so must last for a long time. I just started going back to my library but my problem is every book I check out, I feel like I should head to Amazon and buy. That defeats the purpose. I don’t think I’ve ever met a book I didn’t love. What is your opinion on the digital readers? I can’t bring myself to try them.

    • jmlindy422 November 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

      I would love to have an e-reader for a test run. I suspect I would love it and then drop it in the tub ’cause I do a fair amount of reading in the tub. When I’m feeling all daredevil-y, I read a library book in the tub. Oh! And a new bookmark low for me: a dental floss pick. Love the “sacred hush” comment.

  3. The Hook November 22, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    I just visited one of my local libraries – the downtown branch – and you’re exactly right: it was far too loud!
    What’s the world coming to these days?

    • jmlindy422 November 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

      We are all going to hell in a hand basket, that’s what.

  4. luanamariav November 23, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    Amazing article, I loved it! I never knew “non-quiet” libraries even existed…

  5. thecubiclerebel November 23, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    OHMYGOSH. Another great post by you. THIS one as well should’ve been FreshPressed. I sooooo agree w/ you on this. I want you to know that I am sitting in a hotel room here in D.C. LOL’ing at this post!!! Agreeing with it with such umph. I am a library snob. I cannot stand noise in there. The cell phones should be banned at the doorstep. Frisk them, whatever it takes. Please don’t get me started on The Laptop Folks who come to the library as if it’s their private office, hogging up the tables and surfing the web. OY infinity! “A coffee drinking room at Starbucks”–I can’t take it, it’s just too funny. I’m on the floor, sideways on the couch.
    Blockhead as well has me sideways. Laughter.

    I can’t even discuss dog ears, particularly in new books. I’ll end here…my nostrils are flaring. But I think you are a kindred spirit. Putting you on my favorites.


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