Towards the end of 2015, the Society of Chief Librarians published the report ‘Essential Digital Infrastructure for Public Libraries in England’ http://goscl.com/wp-content/uploads/151130-DigitalPlatformFinalReport.pdf#page=18&zoom=auto,-82,753 The report stated that existing IT in most libraries is so outdated that users are simply unable to benefit from developments in digital technology.
One hopes that the report recommendations will be followed, bringing English public libraries into the Digital Age.
However, recent library visits - combined with feedback from colleagues, friends and family - have made me wonder whether some public libraries need to take an urgent trip down memory lane into their silent past. Having been made aware by a friend that the librarians in her local library were the only ones who made a noise most of the time, I decided to check this out by visiting several local libraries.
To my amazement, I discovered that she appeared to be right. Although library visitors did periodically make a noise - cue the excited toddlers anxious to join a story session -, most library staff made little or no effort to keep their voices down. Visitors seeking information or wishing to buy local parking permits tended to keep their voices low; as with the toddlers, there were obviously some exceptions but on the whole, people showed consideration towards other people who were browsing, reading or working on the library’s PCs.
Library staff, on the other hand, quite often seemed to act as if they were in their own enclosed office space. Loud discussions about what to have for lunch, shouts across the library to another member of staff, high volume phone calls with - on one occasion - a loud conversation about trade union matters by someone who was the on-site representative: it reminded me of being in the school library.
While we certainly wouldn’t want to return to the days when “a librarian is someone who is not in the business of wishing anyone a nice day”, could we please have just a little more silence?
When you listen closely, the silence of the reading room is actually white noise produced by half a dozen nervous people rustling in their seats.