Turn up the volume on libraries
Is it time for our libraries to get loud? For background music to joyfully sing out from loudspeakers while members flip through their favourite sections of their local institutions?
For mums to discuss bedtime books for their children over a well made latte (yep, you guessed it, with the sound of a library cafe’s coffee machine hissing along with their conversation).
For book club discussions to rise and fall with the passion of the group, for students’ laughter and cookie munching to be heard at study tables and whole conversations to be voiced within the libraries’ venerated walls.
Is it time to get rid of the staid, hushed tone, the ‘don’t you dare made a sound louder than a whisper’ culture of our libraries?
I make this suggestion with a loud bias. I hate the silence. It completely freaks me out, rather than help me concentrate the silence deafens me, at a library it is all I can hear.
I recently visited my local library to try and get some work done in an environment where I couldn’t get up and feed myself even more food every time I wished for a distraction, but I lasted just five minutes in my library.
The silence physically oppressed me to the point that all I wanted to do was shout out loud and make as much noise as a child throwing a tantrum in a shopping centre.
As a journalist I have always worked in noisy work environments where the constant ringing of phones, shouting, swearing, running, loud jokes you wish you hadn’t just heard and live TV interviews make up the background noise.
Blocking out that noise has never been a problem for me, but I do understand this wouldn’t be everyone’s ideal enviornment to work in.
But I think libraries take things just as far in the silence direction. It’s why I believe you see so many students studying in cafes, earphones visible, rather than at their libraries.
Cafes play music, allow talking, have people coming and going. They create an atmosphere that is enjoyable to sit it. An atmosphere which breaks the isolation of studying or working alone but is still conducive to getting work done.
They have become the new public space because publicly owned spaces haven’t kept pace with the wishes and wants of the public.
As a person who is proudly a bookworm/dork/geek/book freak or any other name us bookish people have been given, here are my suggestions for making libraries more fun places to visit.
In the afternoon and night hours when young people in particular are more likely to be studying or working from computers a cafe environment should be adopted.
Most young people studying or working are after a venue that serves coffee, has wifi access and power points, where there are other people and plenty of movement so they don’t feel so locked away, where there are comfy chairs and lounges and where the space feels uplifting or creative.
And where possible our libraries should try to have both indoor and outdoor space. I love the winding verandah outside the Eltham Library that overlooks a park. Across Melbourne cafes and restaurants have known for a very long time that we are obsessed with al fresco dining.
So why not al fresco reading across Melbourne or even Australia? On a sunny afternoon who wouldn’t prefer to be working or reading in a courtyard or on an open rooftop rather than inside a greyish building?
My local library has no outdoor space and reminds me a lot of the portable classrooms of my primary school education. Everything is in blueish/grey colours and looks a little dated.
Here I would suggest our libraries get creative. Why not let the best photographers, artists and designers free on our libraries walls? Couldn’t they be a great canvas, an ever-changing public space to show off the talents of local creatives?
Imagine if our next Tim Winton or Peter Carey were to sit brooding for months over their laptop, drinking too much caffeine, debating religion/philosophy/politics with the next Gillian Armstrong or Cate Blanchett at their local library, before delivering their masterpiece to the reading world.
That would, I believe, be worth lifting our libraries’ veil of silence for.
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