The first rule I ever learned about the library is that it is not pronounced “lie-berry.” The second rule I ever learned about the library is that you’re supposed to be quiet. This second rule was enforced by popular culture. For example, the apparition in the library at the beginning of Ghostbusters does not say “Boo” or “Ebenezer Scrooge,” but “Shh,” holding its translucent index finger to its translucent lips.
And that has been my approach to libraries throughout my life. No talking loudly, unless you want to get attacked by a ghost. True, rules of society change. At weddings, instead of throwing rice, people blow bubbles. “You’re welcome” becomes “No problem.” What was once a highlight-worthy tackle becomes a 15-yard penalty. But I always thought that the library, the sanctuary of reason, would remain a quiet place.
But evidently that rule, too, is under assault by the rules committee.
Just this past Saturday, I visit my local library branch to see if the copy of Harry Potter and the Fire Breathing Insurance Adjuster that I reserved has arrived. It turns out I have to wait a few more weeks, so I take a seat in the club chair by the window with a copy of The Collected Clifford Books that I’m re-reading for my adult education class, “International Politics and Large Cartoon Dogs.”
I am not, however, alone in my nook. The young man at the desk adjacent to my chair is wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers. All young men these days wear hooded sweatshirts, jeans, and sneakers. His black fleece jacket and backpack are lounging on a chair next to his desk. The backpack has black mesh outer pockets through which I can see pencils, pens, and an iPod suspended in a nest of thin white wires.
Something on his person vibrates and he answers his cell phone in a loud, clear voice. “Hi…Yeah, I’m just trying to get this homework done…I don’t care about the grade anymore. I just want to be done….”
I’m wishing he just wanted to be done with this telephone conversation. I clear my throat loudly a few times but he does not turn around. A lot of people are sick these days, and perhaps he thinks that I am just another library patron who is a little under the weather. I consider peeking out over the top of the desk, but in law school I was trained to be confrontational only for money.
So I move to another portion of the library. There is a seating area on the second floor, over by the children’s reading room, where I can relax with my book and admire samples of finger painting from local artists. I am once again engrossed in my reading when I am disturbed by three-year-old child who is lying face down on the floor, kicking and screaming into the carpet. A woman I presume is the child’s mother is standing next to him, telling him that this is no way to protest the BCS ranking system. I wish she would take the child away and channel its energetic fury into something productive, like a blog, but she makes no move. I’m glad when I hear the child start to run out of breath, but then a librarian calls a number, and a new child steps up from the front of a long line of children, hands a small piece of paper to the librarian, and replaces the out-of-breath child on the floor and commences kicking and screaming with a fresh pair of lungs.
I make another lap around the library, searching for a quiet place. At the back of the library there are some people talking as if they are contestants on a game show. In the foyer there is someone playing Angry Birds with the sound on. In every corner of the library I am assaulted by the noise of patrons who seem to have forgotten that one is supposed to be quiet in the library.
I finally get up the nerve to complain to the head librarian. And she tells me, in a voice better suited to the floor of the Senate, that the library has a “no shushing” policy. Guess I missed that initiative in the last budget vote.