Thursday, March 15, 2012

Libraries as Place within our Communities


Today is the ides of March and I am thinking of my college days when I read Julius Caesar and the other noble Romans. The library at my alma mater has a huge collection of materials where I felt welcome to study and explore the world of books.


The place of libraries in society is ever changing. As I study the history of libraries throughout this Foundations course, I see the building and organization evolve from a place where people shared ideas and philosophies, to one for self-education, to a social place. Libraries are no longer those quiet havens for the thinker but the noisy hub for joint projects and group learning. Evolution occurs whether we want it to or not. But if we don't embrace the change, we get left behind.


At the same time, there are many students who want quiet places to study. Every time I enter the elevator at the library, I see students seeking the upper floors where there are still study carrels and quiet nooks where they can concentrate or work uninterrupted. Good for them. I often wonder how students can study and be productive around all the noise. Then again, I need quiet to read and concentrate on what I am trying to absorb. When I was a student, I had my secret places where I studied in the library. They were tucked into forgotten corners of the building. I could work there for hours without interruption. When I wanted to study in a social environment, there was a huge room where I could go, find a snack (the only place you could eat in the library), and be amidst my fellow students.


I’m reading the new book by Susan Cain Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking (NY: Crown Publishers, 2012). The author is fascinated by introverts and extroverts. While reading her introduction, I wonder if study habit (quiet place vs. study commons) is connected with this personality type. This book is an interesting study of people who prefer quiet over noisy social and work environments, who would rather read a book than go to a party. Since this personality trait seems to run through many librarians, Quiet is important to read so we understand how to make ourselves and other introverts comfortable in today’s society of extroverts.


Place will become more important over time and libraries are in the right place to give students place and space to study and grow. With the current trend of library as noisy place, as social and meeting place, it is important to set aside spaces for those who revel in quietude.


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