I don’t like the interior design of the new library because I think it panders to our worst behavioral excesses. Library administrators seem to believe that turning places for learning into Starbucks with books will somehow improve scholarship and build community. “This is the way libraries are used now,” is what I hear. But should we exchange peace and quiet for excessive noise and bad behavior?
I visited the Chinatown library to see the new design and booked a computer for a couple of hours in the afternoon. A few minutes later, two men arrived with their coffee and newspapers, and began a long, laugh-filled talk at normal conversational levels. A young man sat with his laptop and cell phone, and began returning a series of calls while surfing the Web. People called out to one another across the room. At the Edgewater library it’s especially bad when teens are present, because their TV is blasting and they scream at one another as if they were in a park. When the kids take over after school, Northtown is so noisy it’s hard to think.
Why do we encourage such behavior? Why is it so wrong to tell people who demand safe spaces and freedom from bullying that their own behavior is antisocial? That disturbing other people is unacceptable? That running, shouting, and other behaviors acceptable outside do not belong indoors?
CPL gave up on encouraging good behavior when it allowed cell phone use and coffee in the library. I’ve listened to people discussing their HIV status, toileting habits, overdue bills, and domestic fights while they browse the stacks or surf the Web. Kids run through libraries the way they run through parks. Adults greet neighbors and carry on conversations as though they were in their own homes and not in a public place where other people are trying to read, write, or perform some research activity, whether a term paper or family tree. Libraries used to be the places one could find peace and quiet for reading and reflection. Now they’re designed to encourage conversation and raucous behavior.
Someone once said that Starbucks is where we go to be alone together, everyone in his own chair focused on a laptop or phone, latte at hand.
Libraries are like that now. Too bad.