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‘Quiet Please I am Working.’

February 15, 2016

What is it about a library or an archive these days which seems to give people the idea that they have to talk very loudly.
Yesterday I planned a day in a local library to do some work. First I was moved because the room was to be used for an hour by a Reading Group. Last time I had to endure a whole morning of a knit and natter group and who knows what it will be next time, probably a cookery demonstration. Anyway I happily moved next door and got on with my work with the distant buzz of chatter about a Victoria Hislop book.
After lunch I went on working and in walked someone I knew. ‘I haven’t come to work, I’ve just come to sort my shopping out,’ she said breezily. Sometimes I wish the libraries were less welcoming to the casual dropper-in. The over-familiar user can be an absolute pain in the backside. They see the shelves as theirs and the study areas as their front room in which they can hold forth at length on any subject guaranteed to distract others from what they have come there to do.
The woman with the shopping bag was unstoppable. She babbled on about what he told her and she told him and how she was the best employee they had ever had. Eventually she declared that she was writing a book but it was very slow because she had to handwrite it. I sensed that this was my moment, ‘Why don’t you get a computer,’ I asked, ‘Oh, I haven’t time for all that!’ was the reply. And then her phone rang. Of course she answered as she was sitting in the library and made sure everyone heard the conversation. ‘Yes, we are going to work for Mr Smith, he asked for us particularly. He didn’t know who we were until we went to see him and then he recognised me. No, they won’t have anyone else.’ I could take no more. I packed my bags and left.
In the good old days when there were signs up in libraries saying, ‘Please be Quiet,’ there was a strict silence rule. Libraries could be quiet scary places until you got used to them, then you started to feel at home in this peculiar, silent world. People floated around trying to make as little noise as possible and any speech louder than a whisper was greeted with a black look from staff or a sharp word. It was, in short, a place where you went to choose your reading matter or to work. Silence reigned supreme.
Now, it is mayhem. Staff chirrup away between themselves and the constant din in some libraries makes it impossible to work. In one local archives department it is the staff who are the problem. Because they talk they give permission for everyone else to do the same. The work one does requires great concentration and I resent others slowing the work down or causing me to make mistakes. I need a big sign to put in front of me, saying,

‘Quiet Please I am Working.’

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