Tuesday, January 1, 2008

End of shushing ... Adapting to change

A favorite blog The Boomer Chronicles has a discussion about library policies and if it remains realistic to expect quiet. I've always expected and liked quiet libraries (and quiet movie theaters) but apparently the days of shushing are over -- and many libraries have reinvented themselves to try to appeal to a next generation of readers.

Comments on the blog from librarians include these:

"You're right. Libraries have changed, full stop. We supply CDs, DVDs, computers, the Internet (and with that gaming, Facebook, instant messaging, etc.) We offer classes and courses and (if you're lucky) 24/7 access to online databases and books. Some libraries will offer online chat reference, or video demonstrations on how to use our Internet catalogues. I can boast that our library has a coffee shop. We have listening stations, yoga in the program room, and computer games in the training room. We're a destination. After all, a library is a public space - a community center. Designed to serve the taxpayers who support it. So why not let those taxpayers determine how it should be used?"

"All I care about is that the library be a place where kids feel welcome. 'Fun Fun Fun!' is not necessarily the object, but it can't hurt for kids to feel like they can find fun at the library. In my opinion, the video games and DVDs and CDs and cafes and Internet computers, (and, in fact, the large stocks of best sellers for adults) are all just pump primers - bait to get parents to bring their kids into the library so that we librarians can engage those kids, make them feel comfortable in a book-filled environment, and convince them that reading itself is fun.

The decrease in leisure reading among young people is measurable, and has serious consequences in terms of their future achievement (see the recent NEA study on the subject, titled To Read or Not To Read). If I consider myself to have a mission, it is to put as many books as possible into the hands of young people. And you can't be talking up a book if you're busy shushing ....

Teenage mothers wheeling their strollers in? The baby starts to wail? You give them a hand checking out, but you don't pressure them to leave - these kids - and THEIR kids - are the ones on the knife edge. If these girls don't read Goodnight Moon to their kids, those babies are more likely to have babies themselves. It’s proven ....You guys who deplore the noise in libraries? You guys already read. You're doing great. We love you guys. I do wish that we had better accommodations for you ..... but until the nation’s reading scores and school systems are back where we'd like them to be, I think that libraries must try our best to make up for the educational shortfall in this country, and in part, that means making sure that our spaces are comfortable and welcoming to the readers most at risk."

As an association executive, the discussion woke me up:

1. Isn't this what happens to us? One group wants the association to accommodate one way of learning, another group wants to accommodate another way. And if we don't focus on the newest learners, then what's the future? Can everyone benefit from learning new ways - will those tools ultimately serve everyone? Recognizing organizations have limits, like libraries, then choices have to be made.

2. Supports the theory that removing some of the rules and policies makes the group accustomed to order and silence unhappy, while freeing up an environment for access, acceptance, conversation and reinvention.

Now when I notice the librarian isn't shushing anymore, guess it's me who needs to adapt. Even if I thought I didn't want to.

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