I’ll take a quiet library over a hip one
Ryan Summerlin August 11, 2012
I love libraries, books, e-books, the whole bit. Pitkin County Library has been my home away from home since I was a child. My love of literature eventually led to an English degree and a life of travel and the familiar sanctuary of libraries all over the world. Aspen doesn’t have a library so much as it has a noise factory replete with rows of bookshelves. To spend a fortune to increase the size of such a broken public facility before we fix it would be nothing less than absurd.
Both children and adults who would never consider or allow jabbering in a movie theater don’t think twice about conversing or playing in the Pitkin County Library. Much of the problem is built-in, both architecturally and by hypocritical example, which becomes essentially carte blanche for mirrored behavior.
In our library, you enter the acoustically cavernous main floor where even dropping a book can be heard throughout the place. A turned page would be a welcome sonic blast in lieu of what actually occurs during most hours. Phones ring. Librarians answer them and carry on in normal voices that carry inescapably.
Naturally, that precipitates cell hone usage by patrons as well. The change machine for the prominent photocopier sounds like a slot machine payoff. The self-serve checkout sings the theme wiggle of a witch’s nose.
God forbid anybody walk out the door without properly demagnetized loan items, as the recourse is equivalent to a fire alarm. If you think I’m exaggerating any of this, you don’t spend much time in our library. Reading with intent sans distractions is difficult. Any deeper study could never possibly occur. Nobody whispers. Silence is not golden. Why would it be? Noise precipitates noise, that’s how it works – it’s permitted then extrapolated. Our library is even striving to be so hip now that you can eat and buy coffee, because there aren’t nearly enough coffee houses, right?
In a digital age where everyone from age 5 to 90 is suckling from an electronic teet of one kind or another all day long, the library offers no respite. Fine, media changes. Downstairs is where most of the digital media is kept, aside from the computers that take up much of the space on the main floor. Audio-visual machines with headphones are available, so you’d think perhaps the study desks there would be a good place to study. You’d think wrong, because loud tutoring occurs throughout the day both upstairs and downstairs. A meeting room is where readings and performances for adults and exuberant children are held. I’m absolutely in favor of these and all educational experiences. But where does a mofro have to go in a library to simply read or quietly study without incessant noise and distractions? Seriously! Respectful silence is the most honored and rudimentary rule of every library in the world since the dawn of time. Why does Aspen get it so wrong?
There are plenty of other social playgrounds here. When I go to the library, I’m not looking for roommates and conversations with garrulous acquaintances I happen to see. I’m not searching for coffee or the ambient noise of the lobby of a goddam hotel – there are plenty of places I can find all that here in the land of nattering socialites and the twice-kissed ass.
I want to know where there is a public shelter from the elements, full of books and information, and the silence required to delve into that sacred escape of the mind and imagination – something like, say, a yoga studio with a desk and books.
Let’s ameliorate the acoustics and layout and fundamental priorities of the beautiful space we already have, turn it back into a library for starters. Why not improve collaborative silence and create quiet nooks in the existing building where one can study and contemplate the spectrum of life without the din that is so easily found everywhere else, before we go polishing yet another turd at public expense?