Thursday, July 8, 2010

Boorish Library Patrons: A Real-Time Encounter or Compressed Experience?

Scenes of the crimes?

Link to July 7 opinion piece in The Capital, "The Ninth Ward: Enough already! Libraries are being overrun by boorish patrons".

Excerpt: By their very public nature, they are showcases of the decline of civility. I'm writing this column in a public library as children run around screaming, patrons talk loudly with each other or on their prohibited cell phones and librarians are chattering at the check-out.

We used to enter and work quietly in these almost sacred places. Anything above an occasional whisper invited a stern look or raised finger to the lips and hushes from the librarian. Children were taught this library behavior by respectful parents at an early age and it carried on into all libraries, many of which also had even more strict "quiet rooms," as we have in some of our branches

Ceaselessly screaming and talking loudly and chattering all at once?  Has the atmosphere in libraries become that bad?

Based on my experience -- and I've visited a lot of libraries in my two years of retirement ("Where in the World is Retiring Guy") -- Foer's observations strike me as a bit hyperbolic.  In my 22 years as a library director, I dealt with boorish patrons on a regular basis, but I generally found the great majority of library users to be thoughtful and courteous -- and most appreciative of the services offered.  A staff with a strong customer service orientation (and a willingness to insure that the library is a welcoming place to all) is a huge asset, of course.  (But there's no pleasing some folks, I suppose.)

Paul Foer will likely find find common ground with fellow curmudgeon William H. Wisner, who expressed similar sentiments in a 7/17/2009 op-ed piece in the Christian Science Monitor, "Restore the noble purpose of libraries".

Apparently, the template for this type of opinion piece includes a reverie for library times past....

Foer:   We used to enter and work quietly in these almost sacred places.  Anything above an occasional whisper invited a stern look or raised finger to the lips and hushes from the librarian.

Wisner:  Libraries were once a sacred secular space of silence and reverence – a place where one automatically lowered one's voice.

[Emphasis is mine.]

...and a cataloging of various offenses to traditional sensibilities.

Foer:  See first paragraph of excerpt above.

Wisner:   I went to my own public library the other day with my 11-year-old daughter and was horrified to see a television monitor running videos in the children's section – not a kid in the stacks and all the rest lined up to play games at the computers. It was a library that had gotten everything exactly wrong.

Sacred.   Noble.  Nothing wrong with these adjectives on their own.  But in Retiring Guy's world, I'd rather hear such terms as "essential" and "accommodating" used to describe libraries.

1 comment:

Paul Foer said...

Mr Nelson I can assure you that until just now, I had never read William Wisner's piece THAT you mentioned. However, my observations are based on being a frequent patron of libraries for nearly half a century, during which time I also frequented libraries in college and graduate school and visited some amazing libraries across the country. As a child I regularly visited the amazing Noyes Library in Kensington, MD and then various branches of the Montgomery County, MD system. I've enjoyed the public libraries in many universities as well as in Winchester, VA, Boulder, Co, and the fabulous new one in Seattle. But my recent observations for my article were based on numerous visits to a handful of Anne Arundel County branches over the past few years. I've also been a book dealer and inveterate patron of used books stores across the country. It's quieter in the coffee shops in commercial bookstores. Thanks for your thoughts. Paul Foer, Annapolis, MD