Should we? Image from Christchurch City Libraries Flickr

Should we?
Image from Christchurch City Libraries Flickr

My thoughts on the importance placed by the audience at the Battle of Ideas debate on quiet in libraries is continuing to receive replies and comment.  Public librarians, perhaps in reaction to the  old stereotypical “shush” image, have sometimes gone out of their way to be louder and more energetic and, in doing so, have alienated some of its clientele an core audience.  Now, don’t get me wrong, noise is not a bad thing. I love going into a library with a buzz, where children are being entertained, adults are talking about books and staff are helping customers.  To my mind, it’s a sign of a healthy environment, let alone I suspect a great way of introducing children (and parents?) to the joy of books.

However, it may need to be counterbalanced with one of the few remaining unique selling points that libraries should have: that of quiet.  Now, bear in mind that there’s very little absence of noise in our lives.  I live in a house where the TV is on all the time, children are often shouting (in a happy way; well, most of the time) and ipads and radios are blaring.  This afternoon, I had to move myself into another room to read a book (“Catastrophe” by Max Hastings, by the way: recommended).  Now, what if I did not have another room?  I could go to a coffee shop but that costs money and people have an annoying habit of chatting in there as well. What if it wasn’t leisure reading but study?  Then the library is, or should be, the only haven left for many people. But if I do go into one then the odds are there’ll be loud conversation going on in there, if not outright song.  By discarding the gift of quiet too easily, can it be that  libraries are making themselves vulnerable to criticism from those who don’t use it for any other purpose?  By those who have all the books they want, have Google and no social welfare needs … but crave quiet? To put it another way, by taking over the feeling of the community centre, public libraries may be opening themselves up to closure by those who point out that we already have community centres.

Now, the problem here is for many libraries that of size.  It’s easy for the excellent Manchester Central Library to have a quiet study area, although it is perhaps instructive that its wonderfully restored circular reading room has its silence safeguarded not by library staff but by its hundreds of jealously hushing students. It’s a lot harder for a smaller library, perhaps consisting only of one large (or even not so large) room.  The solution here – and it’s an old one – is to have different uses at different parts of the day.  Get that loud rhymetime out of the way early and then have a quiet atmosphere for the rest of the time until the schools come out.  Advertise quiet times as such.  Start off as one day a week, publicise it (the newspapers will love this, won’t they? Your more reactionary councillors may as well) and see how it goes.  You never know, you may – after putting up with the singing “wind the bobbin up” for the nth time in the morning, secretly relish the forbidden pleasure of saying “shush” in the afternoon?  You know you sometimes want to. Now you have a business case for it as well.

“I worked in public libraries until last year and there was no attempt to maintain a balance between what I characterise as the “Rhyme-time model” and the needs of users (often young people revising or doing academic course work) who valued a quiet space which they couldn’t necessarily find at home. The fact that the noise of children’s activities drove out other users was seen as a positive and the complainants denigrated as old fogeys and definitely not our target audience – the same staff who drive away bookish teenagers by emptying teen sections of books and replacing them with vending machines and uncomfortable orange and purple furniture, which they describe as ‘groovy’ without any sense of irony. Incidentally, I’ve never seen any evidence that a mic-ed up staff member enjoying herself singing and shouting with a group of mothers (and nannies) with pre-school children translates into a lifetime’s use of public libraries by those young children. Why would it?

Our enthusiasm for being customer-led is very selective. But as you say, it should be possible in most libraries to maintain a balance, without veering over to the silent halls of high culture model. One of the key points that celebrity defenders of libraries nearly always make is that libraries represent an oasis of quiet away from piped music, mobile phone conversations etc. which shows that they don’t actually use public libraries but for many that is one f the USPs and the audience at the debate seems to have reflected that view” Kevin Jewell by email

UK national news

  • Library apprenticeships and why they are bad – Medium. “The national minimum wage for an apprentice is £2.73 “for apprentices aged 16 to 18 and those aged 19 or over who are in their first year” — as most library apprenticeships are a year long, this means most library apprenticeships are covered here. Some employers are a little more generous than this, but many stick quite rigidly to the minimum. My concern is that organisations use library apprenticeships as a cheap way of hiring library assistants and this has worrying implications for the profession as a whole.”

“The cost of “The Qualification” (both economic and time) already goes some way to excluding people from low income backgrounds, who are already massively under-represented in what is a pretty white, middle class profession. The library apprenticeship is another route into the profession that favours those who can afford to work for £2.73 per hour and essentially adds another hurdle for people from low income backgrounds to jump over. “

London libraries news; Barnet, Bexley, Greenwich & Wandsworth. – Stop the privatisation of public libraries. Alan Wylie casts his disapproving eye over changes in four boroughs.

Richard Brooks in his Sunday Times Biteback column writes that Germany’s culture minister highlighted the gulf between her country’s politicians and those in Britain when she said that “Culture is an expression of humanity. Something in the heart of a nation.”. Tell that to Ed Vaizey, our arts minister. Well actually, she did. Grutters had a dispiriting conversation in his office before the event. “I very much got the impression  that he thought the arts were about making money. He also mainly seemed interested in the culture industries, not culture.” Desmond ClarkeEmail received.

  • Supreme Court to hand down key ruling next week on consultations – Local Government Lawyer. “The appeal considered whether a fair consultation required that consultees be informed not just of the proposals of the local authority, but also of the reasons for the proposals. It also considered whether consultees should be given sufficient information to enable them to critically examine the thinking that led to the proposals.”

“According to the Local Government Association’s polling report, HERE @Local.gov, 71% of residents said very or fairly satisfied with their local library services, up from 66% in January.” Polling on resident satisfaction with councils



UK local authority news

  • Barnet – The future of Barnet Libraries: key issues for options consultation – Barnet Unison. Points out options exclude continuing to provide the library service directly by the council. Looks at advantages of continuing service in-house, the dangers of outsourcing and the problems associated with volunteers (including a disproportionate time spent interviewing and training them).
  • Central Bedfordshire – Tales of woe over mobile library ‘bias’ Biggleswade Today. “Sally Smalley of Upper Caldecote this week tried to visit the service, which visits the village every three weeks, but was turned away. Under Central Beds’ policy, the service can only deliver books to those who are unable to reach a library and have no one to collect books for them, such as the elderly and housebound. But Sally believes the policy is ‘prejudice and short sighted’. She said: “I imagine financial cost has been the reason for the change, but this makes no sense, as the bus still drives to the village, it is staffed (by people who said they would love to see it used for all the community), it is here every three weeks.”
  • Cumbria – Cumbria residents’ views sought in mission to save £83m – North West Evening Mail. “Public libraries run by community volunteers and fewer roads gritted through the winter are just two of the drastic options being put forward by desperate county bosses.” [NB. the consultation is here but, due to the confusing nature of its organisation, I cannot see mention of libraries in it – Ed.]
  • Derbyshire – Letters: Dismay at mobile libraries – Ripley and Heanor News. “I  am dismayed at the selling off of eight mobile library vehicles having used this splendid service for almost 40 years. However to find also that our primary schools and nurseries are not included in the new scheduled stops is appalling.So much for boosting literacy and the love of the written word.”
  • Flintshire – We’re facing catastrophe in Flintshire – News North Wales. “Town and community councils across Flintshire have been asked to consider taking responsibility for community buildings, sports facilities, leisure centres and libraries as well as play areas and open spaces, as the authority works to balance the books in the face of massive government funding cuts.”
  • Gwynedd – Row erupts over Gwynedd Council cut consultation – News North Wales. “Why should the public choose between libraries and care or the elderly? It’s absurd.” 
  • Lincolnshire – Lincolnshire library staff face threats of violence and drunks – Boston Target. “Library staff have been forced to deal with paedophiles, threats of violence and people using the computers to look at porn, the Target can reveal. Details of incident reports filled out by Boston’s librarians have been released to the Target under the Freedom of Information Act. They show there have been 49 incidents in the last three financial years as well as two between April and August this year.”
  • Manchester – Manchester Central Library named building of the year – Manchester Evening News. “Manchester Central Library has been crowned the city’s building of the year. It scooped the prestigious prize at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s Property and Construction Annual Dinner last night.”

“The attention to detail in preserving the historic character of the building is matched by the fine updating of the Library’s facilities, making it a superb asset for the inhabitants of a 21st century city.”

  • Northern Ireland – Belfast’s Central Library redevelopment: The story where everyone is hoping for a happy ending – Belfast Telegraph. “The Dumfries red sandstone library, designed by the noted architect W H Lynn, may be an architectural wonder that has been used in TV dramas such as Line of Duty, but inside the public spaces look tired and outdated, and visitors don’t need to be well-read to realise the cramped library is in urgent need of a new chapter and a modern-day makeover.”
  • Northern Ireland – Budget cuts force local libraries to change opening hours – Coleraine Times. “From Monday November 3, opening hours in a number of libraries will be reduced or will operate with a different pattern. The temporary reduction in opening hours is one of the measures that has been implemented to make £1.4 million of savings by March 2015 as a result of the Libraries NI budget being cut by 4.4%.” … “Irene Knox, Libraries NI Chief Executive said: “Reduced opening hours will be very difficult for our customers and our staff and we deeply regret having to take this course of action. The impact of these changes cannot be minimised as many in society now rely on the Wi-Fi access, new computer equipment and faster broadband connections available in all libraries”
  • Surrey – How to write for film workshops with Mark Stay at Epsom and Leatherhead libraries – Surrey Libraries. “Join screenwriter Mark Stay for a fascinating insight into the world of script writing for film. The workshop will look at how film scripts are written and how “the hero’s journey” is used to structure films. Children will then create their own hero’s journey story.”
  • Warrington – We dismantle our library service at our peril – Warrington Guardian. “it angers me when I see cuts to our library services and listen to the politicians talk about dismantling this wonderful, edifying privilege that was bestowed upon us by our forefathers. “

“Why do we still read Dickens or Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky? It’s because they help us understand ourselves, what it is to be human and how we might make things better in the future. If libraries can open the door to this kind of knowledge, this sort of insight, then I think we should be crawling over broken glass to preserve them.”