Silence in the Library

*cue Ray Lamontagne’s “Trouble”*

This year has been rather a year of new discoveries so far, as I’ve slowly immersed myself in geek/nerd culture online (as a spectator only). I’ve learned new things, and developed new obsessions (I use the term loosely), found new causes to be excited about, and also discovered that even in a group of super smart kids, we still can’t agree (or agree to disagree) on certain… issues.
I don’t know, I suppose I thought that people who had memorized every line from the original Star Trek series wouldn’t really have problems with sexism and racism.
Beneath my tough walnutty exterior, I am a soft, squishy idealist, I suppose.
So much for nerd utopia.

I toyed with the idea of writing a few blogs on those topics… but I don’t think I’m ready to expose those parts of my soft underbelly to the light of day and to opinions from other people who never mean any harm (but somehow manage to cause a bit everywhere they go). I might, eventually, delve into it, but now doesn’t particularly seem like a good time, what with the heat and state of current affairs and whatnot.

So, I thought to myself (you know, in those rare moments when I don’t think to other people… seriously, who comes up with these phrases?), “I’m not going to go there. I’ll go to the library instead. Libraries are friendly and neutral. Libraries don’t have any particular opinion on your femininity or skin color and libraries never ask you if you prefer to be called African American.”
Answer: No.
American will do.
I am not African.
If you must attach a color-based descriptor, black is fine and not at all offensive.

The folks over at Mental Floss have put together a list of the World’s Most Beautiful Libraries, and I was quite proud to see one of my favorites:
The Trinity College Library in Dublin (which often serves as my desktop background, so I can imagine that I’m working there… in silence… and a deliciously warm green sweater.

I did notice that some of the massive libraries on the list have tile flooring, which seems a bit counter intuitive, since people (myself included) like to wear clicky shoes, and libraries are supposed to be QUIET… but then, in my latest visit to my local library, I encountered people talking at the top of their voices, a man taking several business calls on his cell phone, and a beautiful, but noisy clock that chimed the hour… because people in a library love nothing more than to be jerked out of their reverie by the sound of many bells.
I don’t know, maybe we don’t have to be quiet in libraries anymore.
Was there a law passed about it? I don’t recall voting. Can we vote on this? I object.

I love the idea of libraries (except the noisy ones, of course) because libraries contain vast compendiums of knowledge, and yet, at the same time, are known as being places of peace and serenity. Imagine it… books with differing opinions and mindsets and agendas, standing side by side in peace… perhaps never agreeing, but never arguing either.

I wonder what would happen if humans could do that… learn and understand the “opposite” viewpoint, and clearly, calmly, and objectively state their viewpoint, and proceed on a basis of actual mutual understanding, rather than allowing the discussion to deteriorate into arguments and insults. I would love for there to be open frank discussions about issues, with the purpose of finding middle ground to stand on. We’re not at that place yet, even after all this time, and I suppose that the older I get, the more disillusioned I become with society that would rather be right and on top and at war.

Libraries are one of the few places where two opposing forces are together in a confined space and no one ever fires a shot. Again, it’s idealistic of me, but I would hope that we could learn something from that.


101 thoughts on “Silence in the Library

  1. Awesome library shot. Interesting thoughts. I find a library to be a place where all worlds meet. Where you can gain newknowledge, be entertained, and even be awed at times with what you can find. I love best the libraries with the old books that I handle like gemstones, with a reverence for their age. That does not mean I love any less the musical libraries, the art libraries, and even the children’s libraries. The discoveries I have made in libraries are so many, and no matter how vast the internet ever becomes it can never completely match a library, especially for a young child.


    1. Your library picture caught my eye as I was scrolling Freshly Pressed. Beautiful indeed. I chose that very picture for my blog just a week or so ago, although my writing is not nearly as serious or eloquent as yours. I did enjoy your writing though.


  2. I personally prefer old-fashioned, quiet libraries. My local library has decided to innovate and now has a gaming salon (which is packed with teenagers playing Call of Duty on the Xboxes provided), a café, and even a place where people can book time to practice on the grand piano in the lobby. There’s just one “silent reading room” but it’s inevitably packed with people using it to play games on their laptops so there’s never any room…

    Worst of all, the use of mobile phones isn’t banned… :-/


    1. kokkieh, I partially agree with you, and I think I know what you mean, perhaps, but you sound a bit ideological to me, even if hesitatingly so. I think what we might agree on is that many ideologies are harmful.


  3. Dear Jessica Rose,
    As an American (born in Germany) who is friends with Jews, Muslims and Christians, and people of a wide array of skin hues, I appreciate your thoughts on sexism & racism, silence & knowledge and peace. Thanks for sharing.

    I too like the quietness of libraries. One of my favourite places to read and write is the Great Reading Room at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. The most common sounds are the whispers of turning pages, the occasional scratch of a pencil, quiet scooting of chairs, soft steps and the creaking of doors. It quite reminds me of this photo of Trinity College Library because of its tall arches, good wood work and its shelves of dissertations and theses.

    I read stories, poetry, old books, philosophy, anthropology and linguistics most often. Although I cannot hear the authors with my ears, I read people who not only disagree but disagree passionately and sometimes seemingly without much love.

    I too wish for people to get along and also for peace. We agree on much. But I have a hard time silently or objectively interacting with someone openly opposed to me (for example someone hating someone from another race). However, I cannot–in good conscience–fire a shot in any sense of the word either.

    I do challenge the notion that people can objectively state their viewpoint and even the notion that this would be beneficial if they did. I think sometimes in America we detach the heart & affect from the academy and I think this is a very dangerous move because of what it means to be human. Love is central to what it means to be human.

    It has been said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I say that the Word in love is mightier than both. Silence is rare and beautiful, but so is also a timely and wise Word.

    Thanks again for sharing yours,


    1. Dear Ryan,

      As I read your beautifully written letter to Jessica Rose, I found myself in agreement with both of you. Books, though they may stand side by side, with warring words and peaceful ideas, exist as they are.

      Accepting people as they are, individually, in total completion at this spot in reality… accepting and allowing them to BE who they choose to be, actually allows for a greater love. Being able to hear a difference of opinion, great or small, without affect to your person, is not detaching the heart, but actually allowing the possibility of love truly.

      We humans, with our beautifully created minds and inspiration for growth, love and passion, ideals and opinions, for the most part, do not accept people for who they are or are choosing to be.

      And that is why we respond vehemently when someone opposes us on a topic pertinent to our existence. Maybe we have not understood that we as people, can enjoy a beautiful world of peaceful existence because we are too busy not accepting our own selves.

      Try this on… If you truly accepted everything about you, for how you are choosing to be in this moment of existence, as it is what it is, then how much more peaceful you could create the world around you? By accepting everyone else as just how they are Being.

      It starts with loving and accepting everything about you. If we all did that, we could express our differences, be over opinionated, be however we choose to be, because we are who we are and that is really amazing!

      BEing complete with how we are made, it wouldn’t matter how strongly someone else feels about a certain topic, because you would allow them to have their opinion and it doesn’t affect you.

      Like the books on the shelves, we exist as we are, but humanity does not accept it. Humanity says the book should not have the words, but different, improved words.

      But who am I to tell someone they are wrong, it is only my opinions, my beliefs and ideals, and I’m completely cool with that. Maybe it would also make for greater discussions, greater love, and greater appreciation for who we are as individuals, co-existing in this beautiful world. ?

      ~ karen


      1. Thanks for your reply, Karen. I think what I was getting at is that some people must be opposed. This does not mean I advocate shedding blood or war. Gandhi is a good example of opposing in a peaceful way I think.

        People murdered my ancestors in the name of Christianity a long time ago. More recently, the Third Reich killed so many people wrongfully. The problem is some people’s ideologies lead them to kill other people. While I think tolerance is a good value, I do not see it as a supreme value. I cannot simply accept people who practice genocide. I love the people they want to kill. I love them too much to let them be murdered.


  4. In my (admittedly short) 25 years, I have found that any successful effort to have “open frank discussions about issues, with the purpose of finding middle ground to stand on” must begin with both parties being willing to admit that they might be wrong. If we can do that, it opens enough space for the possibility of a middle ground to exist. If we can respect the other’s opinion enough and be skeptical of our own opinions, we can have the patience to hear the wisdom in someone else’s opinion that we may not agree with. It is not an objective process, as I believe that all of our opinions are influenced by our background, culture etc. and thus completely subjective. Rather, it is a process of admitting to ourselves that we do not know everything and that even our most firmly held beliefs may have flaws in their foundations. That very first step is spectacularly difficult for all of us to take. After all, no one really likes to admit that they are wrong. As you say, we would rather be right because being right feels oh so good.

    I will admit that I stumbled across the post on the FP list, but this idea of admitting fallibility is one that I have come to hold very strongly and your words reminded me of that. Thank you for your writing.


  5. You wrote,”books with differing opinions and mindsets and agendas, standing side by side in peace…”. That is a great observation. They are equal as they coexist in harmony in such a pristine environment. Emotion to their content and possible mis-interpretation and or understanding is what divides us.

    Excellent read,,


  6. I wish that I could blog this calmly about issues around race and feminism. My posts always come out angry (and Im okay with that) but seriously this was a very, very beautiful post.


  7. “Black” has always worked for me. My local library is marble tiled…and I’d never realized how little sense that made because I have always gone in and ran back out with my books. Even with the different opinions and agendas, books can stand in unity simply for the inability to vocalize and engage each other lol


  8. “libraries contain vast compendiums of knowledge, and yet, at the same time, are known as being places of peace and serenity. Imagine it… books with differing opinions and mindsets and agendas, standing side by side in peace… perhaps never agreeing, but never arguing either.” EXACTLY! Very well put! 🙂


  9. Unfortunately you can’t actually work in the Long Hall in Trinity now, it’s a museum. I studied history there, and we had lectures in the side room off, pushing aside the velvet ropes to get to our rooms. In the tower at one end of it you can study the books from the library, taken by a very careful archivist, and only if you are completely silent and use pencils to take notes.


  10. “My church is a library” -the mother of Ethan in 16moons. What you say couldn’t be more true. A library is a place of thinking, of time to dive peacefully into knowledge. Its safe. Trinity college is the place I want to apply to, its so utterly stunning, and I still can’t believe they made th library a museum. Now those books will just gather dust, while they could be offering their knowlege to eager readers.


  11. Well, this is most serendipitous, though I say it myself. I was just browsing ‘Freshly Pressed’ and saw your post under the ‘racism’ caption and thought (to myself) I’d have look-see.

    The first thing I see is a citing of Ray La Montagne’s Trouble which I love so we’re off to a great start. Then I notice the photo of the Long Hall in Trinity College and I’m like, “I’m Irish, I’ve spent tonnes of time in Dublin, this must be a sign!”

    Then I read your post and I really loved the sentiment contained therein and especially liked your analogy of the opinion-filled tomes keeping their peace. I’m a helpless idealist myself and despair sometimes at humanity’s apparent inability to evolve to a better way of being. It’s a totally subjective analysis of course but all one can do is hope for better and challenge the received orthodoxies of thought that cripple so many people, locking tight their doors of perception and insight.

    And now, a joke, one of my favourites:

    A man walks into a library, approaches the head librarian at her desk and exclaims: “Can I have a large fish and chips please?”
    The shocked and disdainful librarian sharply retorts: “Sir, you are in a library!”
    The man looks about, embarrassed, apologises and then replies in the quietest of whispers: “Can I have a large fish and chips please?”

    I look forward to reading more of your blog.



  12. Kudos on presenting a slightly different take on libraries. I still have a healthy respect yet fervent adoption of silence in a library, and still half expect a parochial nun like figure of a librarian running tight shifts of keeping everyone quelled for everyone else’s enjoyment….


  13. Let me first say: I am an architect and I have spent thirty years of my professional life as a specialist in the design of libraries. Particularly research libraries (read college and university libraries in contrast to public libraries.) So, from my own professional perspective institutional libraries have changed. Once a repository of knowledge they are now the locus for the disbursement of knowledge. And the collections are becoming more and similar and as the world wide effort to digitize all printed matter, that’s books, journals and ephemera, libraries will serve more as a portal that issues a spate of information instead of a beautiful, evocative and stately celebration of contemplation. If the library has any special collection, it will be the only unique thing in the library. Browsing of real books is, sadly, discouraged since the browsers often miss-shelve books so that at any time almost 10% of the collection is permantlly lost.

    The economics of libraries has also evolved. At one time the volumes were precious and literally chained to the shelves. Now,it is the shelves that are valuable. Well, not really the shelves, but the real estate beneath the shelves has become too valuable to support book stacks. Collections are culled yearly to remove less popular titles to remote and computerized storage facilities on land far from the center of a campus. (Incedentally I only know of one book depository that is architecturally distinguished. It is in Houston and it stores, and preserves much of the Rice Univertiy book collection.) Newer, and cheaper and shorter lived books replace the books whose contribution to learning is no longer required. At one time catalogers were the unseen toilers who kept the library functioning. Their numbers have diminished and replaced by a growing army of reference librarians whose job is to direct the flow of information out of the library. The catalogers are now located in remote back office areas and their old library space has been repurposed as expanded computer labs or group learning rooms. The tasks that once occupied these workers is provided in a digital format by the book publisher or distributer The reference professionals also teach library patrons how to use computers efficiently.

    So the notion that libraries could or should be the neutral territory that brings conflicting beliefs together as a way to encourage tolerance and understanding is probably not going to happen except perhaps in fleeting moments in group study rooms and only if the institution encourages collective learning as opposed to individual research. The collection itself is becoming virtual allowing for users remote access the collection.

    But I like your thought. However I suspect that the increased availability of knowledge will be more effective. I also mourn the disappearing grand reading rooms of 19th century libraries. Sadly that grandure is not appropriate for the incredible growth of computes technology. I too was mesmerized by the beauty of the libraries in that album. I was stunned by their beauty. I should also reveal that I am a fledgling ‘blogger’ here and architecture is my focus, indeed interest. And I have been thinking about those library images for a few weeks now. I’d to write about them and to find a way to preserve that vanishing building type.


  14. nice title. was drawn to this article (which is also splendid) because of it.
    “Silence in the library” ~ Dr Who
    [episode opening]
    Dr. Moon: Close your eyes and tell me what you see.
    The Girl: The Library.



  15. Reblogged this on wired scribe and commented:
    nice title. was drawn to this article (which is also splendid) because of it.
    “Silence in the library” ~ Dr Who
    [episode opening]
    Dr. Moon: Close your eyes and tell me what you see.
    The Girl: The Library.


  16. I tend to steer clear of conflict and by nature am pretty open to others’ ideas. There will always be people who will argue repeatedly over a worn-out subject (feminism, racism, you name it) but there will be people out there who open themselves to both sides of an issue. I think the evidence we uncover is really where it all starts–two people can argue about something but end up going nowhere because they’re looking at different evidence. I really like what you have to say about viewpoints. Also, I love the picture of Trinity College Dublin–I plan on visiting soon!


  17. I enjoyed reading your piece and share in your love for the quiet unbiased space libraries have to offer…all people have a heart and a head (minus the aliens that live among us), whether they use it or not is entirely up to them.


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