Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quiet Please!

It'll be great when we no longer work in a building site (not on a building site, but in it). The new library has been surrounded by jack hammers, bulldozers, drills, lorries and plenty of shouting for some time now.

In addition, of course, we have adopted a 'modern' approach of letting people eat, talk, receive mobile phone calls, etc. Indeed, we get people coming in who seem baffled - "Where's the quiet area?"

Although I am all for libraries not being precious places designed to scare people away, I have to say that when travelling I have visited libraries, museums and art galleries the way other people visit churches, for a peaceful moment of retreat from the hustle and bustle. In fact, I guess (as a Humanist) I perceive libraries as a place where we show respect for human knowledge and achievement, as well as a place for contemplation of the big ideas.

So I do think the designers missed an opportunity when they didn't build in a quiet spot. We can't even offer Muslims a place to pray any more (they often ask for the quiet corner).

I remember when I did a hard hat visit to the British Library when it moved to St Pancras - and there was a little glassed-in room. I asked what it was for, and they said for people using those new-fangled laptop things, as the tapping of keys annoyed other users. By the time the library opened almost everyone was using laptops, and the little glass room was set aside for the pencil pushers!

Of course, as staff and users were not asked for their opinion these things seem not to have been considered.
Some kind of compromise might have been best. For instance, you could have had a mixture of
  • collaborative spaces where group conversation is allowed
  • considerate areas, where quiet exchanges should be kept to a minimum
  • quiet areas where conversation and mobile phones are forbidden.
Such arrangements can be found in some US university libraries. Why did our award-winning designer not think of these things? Far too late now that we live and work in a open-plan space where I can say something loudly on the 5th floor and be heard on the Ground Floor. Hey ho. So it goes. (Vonnegut)

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