Humor & Entertain

How Quiet Should a Library Be?

The library where I work just received an irate letter from a patron who complained that we weren’t quiet enough, citing crying babies, ill-behaved children and library staff talking too loudly with patrons and with each other. Because I’ve always thought of my workplace as happily bustling rather than noisy, I logged onto Facebook, where I shared my story, then asked my fellow librarians, “Do you work in a quiet library? How quiet should a public library be?”

Response was swift:

It’s 2016! Libraries aren’t shush-factories anymore.

Silent libraries are a thing of the past.

Libraries reflect their communities, and mine is full of young families. Quiet? No!

We try to keep things down to a dull roar. It’s a challenge.

He can’t just put on headphones?

We gave up the quiet rule in 1996 and never looked back. We love our busy, crowded library.

Within a day, 75 librarians had weighed in. The consensus? Libraries are no longer silent. Nor should they be! Here’s a sampling of what my peers had to say:


Libraries have evolved. These days they’re culture and community centers where people can gather, enjoy programs and get information. Patrons who expect absolute quiet need to adjust.

Today’s libraries are living, breathing, thriving organisms used by real people. That said, sometimes I do ask staff members to take it down a couple of decibels.

We’ve hosted taiko drumming, lion dancers and mariache programs! #notquiet.

We’re small and very active. If I need to work in peace and quiet, I have to get here before we open. By 10 a.m., it’s a zoo.

When story times are in progress or the quilters are meeting (which means lots of laughter and chatter) we’re anything but silent. A bustling library is a well-loved library.

We think it’s great that a lot of kids come here to just hang out. When I receive noise complaints, I explain that libraries are for using. Embrace your loud library!

We recently had a patron suggest that we close all the crying babies up in a room. Hello? Libraries don’t have to be silent. Fight that antiquated crap with all your energy!

We’re a branch library in a busy neighborhood. You should hear us during a packed Family Story time or on Harry Potter night. I love the hum of a happy library.


I visited another branch yesterday and it was silent as the grave. Kinda creeped me out. I definitely prefer a library with some chatter.

A silent library is unwelcoming.

I worked in a totally quiet library once. It was quiet because nobody ever used it! It had refused to change to meet modern needs and had become obsolete.


A quiet place to read, work or study is a core service libraries should provide. Does that mean the entire library must be silent? Of course not! But a room, a corner, whatever we can carve out? Absolutely.

We aren’t a quiet library, but we do have a quiet reading room.

We’re too small to have a quiet room, but we enforce quiet hours from noon to three.

We’re currently renovating our library to include a quiet study sanctuary.

Our silent reading room doesn’t get much use, but it’s important to have it for those folks who prefer quiet to the bustle of our community-oriented main floor.

If we could add one feature to our library, it would be a quiet room. I’d love to have the funding to make that happen.

We can’t afford a silent reading room, so we provide disposable earplugs to any patron who asks.


My library gets crazy busy and loud but there are times we’re not as busy and patrons who require quiet have learned to visit then.

I was thrilled yesterday when a patron who’d been complaining about volume brought in noise-cancelling headphones.


Yesterday a patron was shushing her grand kids. Then her phone rang, and she began blah blah blahing at the top of her lungs.

I love it when the high school kids we once had to repeatedly settle down come in during college breaks and complain about the commotion!


I rarely shush, although once when I was speaking loudly to a patron who is hard of hearing, another patron shushed ME.

When an older patron complains about noise, we explain that libraries have changed, then find them a seat away from the fray.

During story time, I encourage the children to shout and roar and bark and meow. They bring energy and life to the library!


My branch recently got a noise complaint via Twitter about the staff talking too loud… welcome to the modern world!

Staff conversation is an issue for us too. It’s great that we enjoy each other’s company. Not-so-great is the fact that we sometimes forget the patrons can hear us yakking.

For some of our older patrons, especially those who live alone, conversation with library staff is a high point of their visit. The last thing we want to do is shut that down!


If library noise volume is an issue… maybe we need a Dewey Decibel System!

When I applied to work at the Bala Cynwyd Library, I was told that it wasn’t a quiet place. If I needed a silent workplace, I was applying for the wrong job. Seventeen years later? I’m still here, and I love my bustling library. The way I see it, a library is the heart of any community. And you wouldn’t want your heart to fall silent, would you?

That being said, in the future, when I sing our praises to the rooftops? I‘ll try to keep my voice down.

Roz Warren

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  • Leslie Koller

    I like to go to a library for peace and quiet, and it bothers me none to ask another patron to speak lower. I usually just move tho. If the library is hosting some activity after hours, that’s fine. If they have a reading for children/family, I just avoid the place that day/night. Libraries should be as quiet as they ever were for the past who knows how many years.

  • Marcus Mitchum

    Every work place has rules. And to think because you are the librarian that the library should fit your personality is selfish. Many people can not study and concentrate with constant noise. Many people can not have music in their ears and a laptop in their face and actually allow their own thoughts to fill their mind. This is why we live in a society where television tells us what to believe and we follow blindly. As a bus driver at a major university, I see students walk out in front of moving vehicles every day because they don’t know how to pay attention to one thing at a time. Perhaps you have no problem with this ….that is until someone you love is seriously injured because they wanted to text rather than drive…or put their phone down instead of paying attention to traffic. I realize that I may be in the minority, but if you raise your children like this, please do not complain when their lack of focus on their environment causes them or you pain. Perhaps my boss will allow me to text while I am driving…besides, it is my work place and no one else matters. I did not write this with the intention of being mean, but hoping that we would consider others before ourselves. If you do not have a quiet room in your library, maybe you should consider one. If you do, then as a librarian it is your job to enforce it

  • Althea

    SHHHHHHH! Bookstore/cafe = noisy BUT a library is supposed to be a quiet space for reading and learning! There are thousands of loud-friendly venues; this is PURE disrespect for people desperate for ONE quiet place to hear themselves think ( most people don’t live alone and can’t get quiet space in their residence either)! It is heartbreaking and it is shhhhhhhhameful; in a world where there is no escape from frenzy and noise, this is just HORRIFYING!

    • Althea

      And there is no quiet in the VERY limited “quiet room” space. My headphones won’t block the noise out either…. this is not a good thing. It’s shhhhhameful.

  • Sha Dishong

    Roz, do you remember me? It is Sha. I used to work at
    Bala Cynwyd in the children’s section. I am definitely on the side
    of wanting the library to be a joyous community- oriented place.
    I was actually looking for articles on the subject; there is disagreement on this issue where I work.
    I do agree that it would be best to have some quiet space for customers who would like to read/study, etc.

  • Jim Sullivan

    There are so few places where one can find true quiet now. I deeply value finding that in a library. Just my opinion – and I don’t work in a library; I just visit them (but not for long, if they’re noisy.)

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