Yesterday, I read an article in Salon about the value of libraries in today’s Internet world. The article says that libraries collect more than digitizable books and magazine articles and goes on to show the treasures of the NYPL (including a lock of hair from Mary Shelley). The part of the article I wanted to point out, though was this:
Today, those oak tables have power outlets and more than half the patrons are tapping on laptops. Yes, they have laptops and yet they’ve come to the library. Librarians (who are of course the most invaluable feature of any library) tend to bristle at the stereotype of their profession as a glorified shush patrol, and typically respond by pointing out the many, many community services libraries provide, from storytelling for children to multimedia resource centers for job seekers to gathering places for seniors. But let’s not totally discount the shushing, because a good library can also give its patrons something that’s getting harder and harder to find: quiet.
The fact that people with technology and with the money to purchase and use that technology still choose to come to the library. At my library, we don’t have a grand main reading room with oak tables and brass lamps, but we do have a wonderfully comfortable periodicals room that combines tables and comfy chairs for just about any work style. It’s a room in which we do use the librarian’s shush (most of the library is not shushable – it’s alive and people are talking and doing activities that don’t lend themselves to keeping quiet) and so it is perfect for people to settle down and work. At any given time in this room, there are people using their laptops in the individual laptop tables (conveniently located near power outlets) as well as people browsing the magazines that the library offers.
We have laptop space on the main floor too – also near power outlets – but that room is louder and more active – people are getting help from our Reference librarians and checking out books and running into friends in the middle of the room – it’s just a louder environment. For people who can work with distraction and activity, it’s fine – for the rest, our quiet reading room is ideal.
The Salon article points out a number of reasons why keeping the library as an actual physical place is advised – even for those who can afford the technology, finding a quiet place to work can be priceless.