Most libraries are quiet.
It may be a public library, a library situated in an educational institution or an inbuilt library in the workplace. Regardless of its type or location, almost all libraries promote silence. The rationale behind this is that visitors go to the library to read, so concentration and focus is very important. And maintaining silence in the library is paramount to achieving this.
I totally agree with this.
But this rule has a flaw. It does not encourage the sharing of insights between readers and it does not encourage bonding among library users. In fact, this rule achieves the exact opposite: isolating one reader from another. The term “alienation” might even an appropriate term in this context. Just walk into any library and see for yourself. Some readers will be hunched over a table studying on a solitary basis, some will be in groups but are forced to whisper and for short period of time while others are merely browsing titles by themselves at the bookshelves. The last group of library users actually remind me of romantic scenes in movies whereby the male lead will remove a title from a row of books on a shelf and see the love of his life through the slit between the books. Unfortunately, such scenes of romanticism don’t happen in real life. I always feel that this is a constant painstaking effort by the filmmaker to imbue some human contact in the library. Because in real life, the library’s almost like a dead town.
Just contrast this with the Greek’s Agora and we will see a very contrasting difference. The Agora in ancient times is both a marketplace and a place of assembly. People come together to interact and exchange thoughts and ideas. The Agora should be the best place that any library can model. Of course, the library should not be turned into a marketplace. Libraries should not only be a place for acquiring knowledge, it should also be a channel for people to exchange insights. A library user who spends 3 hours to read books is better off spending 2 hours reading books and 1 hour engaging in a discussion with other readers. This is because all of us have our own preferences in the types of books that we read and this will cause “blind spots” in our areas of focus when it comes to reading content. Talking and exchanging thoughts with readers whose preferences are different from our own will remove these “blind spots” and enrich us at the same time.
This can be achieved by having libraries build discussion rooms within the premises. This will separate the readers from other individuals/groups who wish to engage in a discussion. To me, acquiring information and knowledge through solitary reading and gaining insights and wisdom through our interactions with others are equally important functions of any library. But currently, the library’s daily operations and regulations seem to fulfill only the former. This is indeed regrettable.
But there is hope.
In recent years, the rules of some libraries in educational institutions are lightening up. Students in these schools are allowed to discuss among themselves in the library and it can be observed that the noise level is not high as well. There are no complaints from students. In fact, they are receptive to this idea and welcome the change. This observation further reinforces my perception that voices from discussion should fill the library, not silence.
Library management committee should also take the initiative to introduce sharing sessions (categorised into different themes/subjects/topics) for library users, whereby interested library users are encouraged to join in a discussion session on a regular basis with like-minded individuals.
Ultimately, it’s the discussion sessions among people that spark more fresh ideas than the occasional epiphany from solidarity and absolute silence.