When the librarian said shhhhh!

When were kids, my sister and I would go to the library to check out books. Sometimes we walked from school to the library and waited until our mother was off work. Early on, we learned the Dewey Decimal System, but I’m not sure that we went there solely for a learning experience. Likewise, I don’t recall how often we’d go. But we went regularly enough for me to remember vividly our trips to the public library. I loved going to the library. I became a reader rather early in life, and trips to the library opened up my then limited world. I know a number of people who don’t possess a library card, and probably can’t recall when they last went to a library. They read books on their Kindles or whatever, and if they want DVDs they download or rent from Redbox. They have access to the Internet through various forms so they have no need to take advantage of the library’s free Wi-Fi or Internet. But every city I’ve ever lived in—from the San Francisco Bay Area to Paris—I’ve had a library card.

I recall, while living in Seattle, walking through the old main library downtown. (Seattle’s Central library was rebuilt and opened in 2004. It’s worth a trip if you’re ever in the city.) I’d see people signing up on a sheet (it’s now done by computer, of course) to get on the Internet. It was the late 1990s or early 2000s; I can’t quite recall for certain. I was struck—I was impressed—that the library was moving in this direction and that our world was becoming increasingly smaller—or supposedly more connected—because of the World Wide Web.

I’m a Baby Boomer who is not on Facebook and Instagram. Save for a few, Boomers I know reach for their handheld to check social media throughout the day. Nearly every person on the planet reaches for their smartphone or iPhone to check texts, or e-mail. Sometimes we don’t need an alert; it’s a reflex that we reach for our devices like we do bottled water. Our fixation urges us to peep–it’s the FOMO. Picking up our devices has become routine, like brushing teeth.

Recently I met a friend for coffee and while we were sitting at the table talking she unconsciously reached for her iPhone to check to see if something, however trivial, was happening she was not privy to. For years I’ve considered this rude. (Actually, I still do!) But I’ve now reconciled that how I feel about it won’t change it. I have to accept it in the way I accept rude strangers. Moreover, this is where so many are mindset-wise whether it’s social pressure, the cultural shift, or something that balances out the oftentimes mundane-ness of daily life. My being opposed to the way in which it’s used does nothing but isolate me from those I associate with. I don’t have to engage, but it has become clear to me that because I don’t social network I find myself not communicating with others as often as I once did.

I’m not making an argument here about whether the Internet is a good or bad thing. It’s about the library! Hence, here’s my point: I was in the library doing some research and there was a young woman seated next to me at a row of computers. She was laughing very loud at whatever amused her on the computer screen; at times she even snorted she was laughing so hard. For several minutes this was not what I’d call a distraction, but then she began to RLOL, and I mean really laugh out loud! I dare not tell someone in the library how to conduct themselves; I leave that to library personnel.

The Internet being accessible at the public library is a very good thing. Yet, what comes with online accessibility is a certain kind of behavior. We have lost our sense of knowing when we are in a public place. This doesn’t apply to the homeless and the downtrodden using the library as a means to have somewhere to go during the day. In some cases these are emotionally unstable people. But culturally we have lost our sense of knowing we’ve crossed the line. We’ve lost our sense of basic common courtesy. We have no sense of personal space. We have no sense of awareness. We are mindless. When I was a child, and prior to the Internet being available in the public library, the library was quiet, almost too solemn. This can be exactly why a lot of people I know don’t spend time in the library: They think boring, and assume dead people are buried in them (i.e., gravesite). But the Internet produced a lot more public library “patrons.” People that would not otherwise go to the library now have library cards. And it most likely has nothing to do with the library’s endless books on every subject known to mankind, or other various reading materials for that matter. It’s simply to have access to the Internet, and to check out DVDs or CDs.

More often than not, when someone is seated next to me in the library I can hear the music they’re listening to from their earphones–the music is generally tuned way up. It’s rare, but a few times I’ve witnessed a library worker tap someone’s shoulder and ask that they lower their volume. They seem clueless why they have to turn down their music. But like the young woman I sat next to who laughed with such verve, the Internet invites a new generation to experience the library in a whole new way. They get lost in whatever they are engaged in; so much so, they aren’t aware of their surroundings. Actually, today’s library has become no more than a Starbucks sans the espresso.

When we were kids, if my sister and me laughed or snickered at our table just a bit too loudly in our neighborhood library, the librarian would come to our table and tell us to “be quiet” or we got the rather harsh, “Shhhhh,” followed by a judgmental stare.

Frankly, I kind of miss Shhhhh?


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