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Behavioral Philosophy

February 2, 2004

We’ve had several complaints recently about noise in the library. In particular, they were about overly enthusiastic or downright rude students.

We’ll be more vigilant and pay better attention to all parts of the library. It’s the kind of behavior that comes and goes, but it can also snowball. There’s something irresistible to humans about even the slightest hint of anarchy.

That is, until one begins to think about retirement. Then, the appeal wanes.
The tolerance of noise in busy public libraries nowadays is welcoming to some people but drives others out the door.

Libraries vary in philosophy and practical options. Some “Shh”; some try signs. Others incorporate quiet areas into new designs.

When Castle Rock was designing a new main library, it incorporated a number of patron wishes that had been revealed by surveys. One was for quiet, another for fireplaces. The new library has a soundproof reading room with a fireplace. The reading room also has some rules.

As with the quest for civil behavior in general, we seek some middle ground. One of the best approaches for any individual to take, young or old, is to proceed with respect for the rights and needs of others. It won’t prevent every possible problem, but it will cover most.

Something about children’s voices attracts our attention, though. Maybe the sensitivity is hardwired into us, maybe it has to do with acoustic differences between child and adult voices.

Children are not solely responsible for noise in the library, of course. Not by a long shot. However, it seems that we are more acceptant of transient noise from adults.

You can well imagine that cell phones are responsible for a new type of invasive library noise. Before cell phones, the irritating ring of the phone and the annoying one-sided conversation were predictably confined to the library’s main desk .

Now, you might be browsing through an aisle of books and suddenly there’s a startling noise — you can’t tell from where — and then the boring half of a conversation seems to follow you around.

You wonder if we could suggest some quiet times …

Yes and no. There’s busy and there’s quiet. Mornings can be busy and yet relatively quiet. If we use door counts as a guide, the first hour is the least busy until dinner time.

Evenings are less busy, generally, unless there’s a school project due. There will be no prize for guessing the busiest and noisiest time: Of course it’s the couple of hours after school until dinner. Say, 3:30-5:30 or 4:00-6:00.

We will encourage civil behavior at that time, but there’s a limit to how much “shhh-ing” we will do. If you want the quietest library we can offer, try Friday evening. Guaranteed.

The door counts are interesting. Three years ago, Thursdays actually edged out Mondays for total visits. But for last year, the rankings start with Monday in first, then Tuesday second, and so on in order to Sunday.

However, in visits per hour, Sunday was a close fifth, beating both Friday and Saturday. Overall, library usage is quite even by day of the week. Average daily totals from Monday to Friday differed at most by nine percent.
There is much greater variation throughout the year than throughout the week. You might choose to use the library by season.

In general, though, one day is like the next at the library. Flip a coin and come on down.

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