People access the public library for different reasons. Sometimes a person simply seeks a quiet area in which they can read, work, or study. In theory, the Colorado Springs library system wants to accomodate those hopes. For example, the downtown Penrose Library branch directs its patrons to the basement for a quiet study area. I sought a place to research my Master’s project and figured I had found somewhere to settle in for the day.
In between the European History and Social Sciences shelves, with Social Problems and Services not too far away, there is a quadrant of sturdy black tables with black chairs. On the middle of the table lies a lamenated sheet which reminds patrons of the library’s general rules. These include: no food or beverages, no loitering, no board, table or card games, and no congregating in groups larger than four in seating areas. In addition to these building-wide rules, there are reminders posted that there is no talking or cell phone use in the quiet area.
As with any other rules, library patrons are mostly left to govern themselves in these situations. This is not to say that the library staff does not work to enforce the rules, but rather to point this out as an example of the fact that they can only be in so many places in the building at one time. When there is not staff to help out, we are left with something loosely like the “honor system.” On the day that I hoped to get some reading and research done, the results were disappointing.
Let’s start with what I like to call the “headphone problem.” It is one that plagues airplane rides and coffee shops in addition to public and university libraries. It is a familiar situation; somebody near you is enjoying some fresh tracks on their iPod, iPhone, Walkman, or other portable music device. Normally this would be fine, except their volume is so loud that you can hear the song perfectly clearly. I suppose that they figure they are just in their own world and not bothering anybody with their music, despite all the baffled looks they receive from those around them. The patron at the table next to me certainly never noticed me looking over as he enjoyed his techno music and read a book.
Then there is the conversations that were taking place around me. One young man was angrily boasting to his friend about what he was going to do about his girlfriend hanging around with another guy, including multiple expletive-laden rants. Apparently he eventually got the address of his competitor. Here are brief bits from his half of a heated cell phone conversation (which of course is not supposed to be allowed in the first place):
“Where do you live? I’ll be at your house in an hour and a half.” (Apparently he doesn’t live close).
“Oh good, it will be easy to kick your (expletive) then.”
“What’s that address? Hold on, let me get a pen.” (Unexpected cordiality for a conversation that was presumably leading to a physcial confrontation).
He then paced the area cursing under his breath, saying things like, “I told him I’m going to smash his head in half.”
In addition to this unfolding drama, another pair of men were conversing at some nearby public use computers. I did not mean to eavesdrop, but the volume of their voices left me no choice as I started to wonder if I was simply naive to believe that people would be quiet in the “quiet zone.” Their conversation had something to do with a conspiracy, I think…
“I hate PayPal with a passion, trying to access my bank account.”
“People want to watch the world burn, because they can.”
“If your bank calls you, tell them right from the start that you’re recording the call for legal purposes. Lie to them.”
Putting aside the apparent excitement of those around me on this day, it raises a question about how people can reasaonbly expect to use the library. As I have mentioned before, there is no question that people will use the available computers to access the internet. Often I see people sitting and browsing through magazines. The fast gratification areas of the library are alive and well.
The book shelves and areas to sit and read books seem to be regarded with less significance. Certainly my experience in the not-so-quiet zone in the Penrose Public Library might be an aberration. Whether it was or not, it would be nice to see those areas used the way they should be, whether by enforcement from the staff or better self-policing.
I suppose patrons should feel free to politely ask one another to keep it down out of consideration for others, but as you can imagine, I did not think it would have been wise for me to try that given the context. Maybe next time.