Tuesday, April 13, 2010


When I was a child, libraries scared me. Not like monsters or frog costumes with leotards (don’t ask), but it was hard to get that peaceful, easy feeling that older patrons seemed to exude. The stacks of books offered intrigue—what treasures were way up on the top shelf?—but librarians and sour-faced readers presented an ongoing risk of reprimand.

“Shh!” My face flushed red every time. I’d immediately flee the building and bike as fast as I could home. No telling what wrath might follow from a pensive book browser.

Libraries have changed. If you want peace and solitude, you’re better off at a golf course. Or sometimes, it seems, at the Blackfish Pub on a Saturday night, Canuck playoff game in progress.

The librarians have stopped shushing people. It’s been years since I’ve spotted a “QUIET” sign. And the serious, senior bibliophile is now often the most flagrant violator of the Code of Silence.

While writing at a prime window seat at the Gibsons Library yesterday, I got to hear the entire conversation between Gladys and Irene. Irene’s granddaughter had just moved back and was trying to get a teaching job. Isn’t that great?! Marv was suffering a terrible case of shingles. Heavens! And Gladys’ sister had recently snapped the most marvelous photo of a hummingbird in her backyard. No need to view it; the description was vivid. (Embellished, I think. But then, I’m the type who clicks four shots of the headless hummingbird and one extreme close-up of my index finger.)

Today, a woman shared a soup recipe—a hit with hubby last night. No use to me. Beef noodle, and I’m a vegetarian. The person five feet to my right is alone but still causing a ruckus, fighting the three magazines she’s selected, flipping pages with ferocity. Two minutes ago, the woman to my right sprang up, shouted, “When did you get here?!” and ran to hug someone in the book stacks. She’s resumed her seat, but the conversation continues as he searches for a book ten feet away.

I don’t mind the excited outbursts of children in the library. Yesterday, a two-and-a-half-year-old extrovert began her 2038 political campaign, boisterously hollering “HI!” to each person she came across. (I was greeted three times.)

Librarians don’t even bother to talk in hushed tones as they direct a gentleman toward the travel books, all the while staying behind their perch at the front desk. Even the wheels on the reshelving cart squeak loudly. It bothers no one. Well, almost no one.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to return to the days of the dreaded “Shh”. The fact that the library is livelier than a cemetery is a good thing. I would just like to think the exuberant catching-up conversations could be saved for the checkout stand at the grocery store or moved along to the library atrium. Maybe we could find a happy medium noise level somewhere between silent prayer and protest rally at the high school gym.

Just a thought.

Oops. My cell phone is ringing. Lovely jazz instrumental ring tone. I have to get that.

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