I’ve been reading a lot about these noisy libraries lately, where people aren’t reading or studying, but are instead playing Dance Dance Revolution, watching movies, and coming for their latest books-on-tape fix. To be honest, I have yet to find myself in a noisy library. Even in the newly redesigned Simmons library (where I go to school), where there is a floor specifically designated as a non-quiet zone, it is still pretty quiet. Maybe that’s just because I’m not hitting up Guitar Hero night.
I’m not going to say that I think libraries are moving in the wrong direction. I understand the need to pull patrons back in, especially when libraries are forced to cut back hours or close altogether due to budget cuts, budget cuts that happen because the tax-paying community doesn’t see any reason to fund them. If you can find a way to bring patrons back, that is terrific. Beyond that, even, I think it’s important that libraries are becoming public social spaces. Our country is in dire need of public social spaces, when there is so little public land left and the only gathering spaces left for people are malls, when even presumed public parks can be copyrighted. I’m very much in favor of the whole “library as space” idea.
I guess there were just a few minor points in Anna Badkhen’s Boston Globe article, “Libraries move with the times, discover niches,” that struck a nerve. Badkhen points out that statistic that only one in four American adults have read a book in the last year. But nowhere in this article is there mention of what libraries are doing to encourage book reading. In fact, one librarian says that they are “stretching the definition of reading,” and that they consider listening to audio books reading. Dude, it’s not. I’m sorry. It’s not reading. When libraries are telling people that it’s ok if they don’t read as long as they listen to a few audio books, part of my soul dies a little bit.
So you know what? Fine, entice people into the library with free movies and dinner and video games and DVD rentals. Those are all great things. Encourage people in your community to make use of the library space in social ways. But damn it, encourage them to read, too! And I mean real books! Start conversations about literacy and why it’s important. Make sure that some of those events you’re drawing people into the library with involve books, and for good measure, start some conversations about the important political and social issues in your community, too. If libraries are going to operate as public spaces, maybe they can also bring civic involvement back to communities. Video games are not the end point, right?