Danielle Murray: Yowls and howls all part of modern library

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Libraries used to be a place where one could get some peace and quiet, writes Danielle Murray. Photo / Thinkstock
Libraries used to be a place where one could get some peace and quiet, writes Danielle Murray. Photo / Thinkstock

I'm at the library. I haven't been at the library in years. But I'm told libraries are quiet places and I need a bit of quiet.

But it is not quiet. The librarians talk - not whisper - among themselves. A man yaps on his cellphone and seems annoyed that I appear to be eavesdropping (I am). Nearby some skull-candied kid sings to himself, clearly unaware that just because he can't hear us doesn't mean we can't hear him. From across the room, a young mother reads to her child.

"Out of the gate and off for a walk went Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy," she bellows passionately. I stop what I am doing and tune in. I can't help it - I love Hairy Maclary.

But it's when the poncy girls turn up after school that things really heat up. Skinny blonde and blue-eyed Alpha-Female and her Somewhat Lesser Friend sit at the table right next to me. Alpha-Female is helping Somewhat Lesser Friend with her homework. Alpha-Female says it's easy. Somewhat Lesser Friend doesn't think so.

Meanwhile, Schnitzel von Krumm, Bitzer Maloney, Muffin McLay, Bottomley Potts, Hercules Morse and Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy trot past the shops and park to the far end of town. They sniff at smells and snoop at doors, when suddenly out of the shadows they see ...

"People don't always like you," declares Alpha-Female.

"Your problem is your voice," she says.

"It's nasal. And mousy. You have to speak up. I'm telling you this because I'm trying to help you."

I am aghast and my mouth drops. "I'm better than you," she might as well be saying. "I will always be better than you."

So now she's just Arrogant Girl. But Somewhat Lesser Friend takes it all in. I stare and Arrogant Girl glares back at me.

"Let's go," she says. "Some people can be so rude."

Really? Okay, I listen in a lot ... but sometimes, it's kind of hard not to.

I hit the Trade Me message boards and discover I'm not the only one concerned about noisy libraries. I learn that the Timaru and Invercargill libraries are both quite nice and have separate wings for the littlies. And Timaru has beanbags in the young adult section. But some are not so good - like a kids' playground - or as one lady puts it "a cross between a creche, teenage social club and internet cafe". At first I'm thinking we are all on the same page but learn quite a few people like their libraries with a bit of buzz.

But I'm still not one of them, so I grumble on the library website before going home.

The next week I am back, eager to see if the time before is just a one-off. It is not. The guy behind me is playing Angry Birds. Now that's something I haven't heard in a while. Unlike our young reading mother in the children's corner.

"Off with a yowl, a wail and a howl, a scatter of paws and a clatter of claws," she yowls, wails and howls to her child - and maybe the entire building.

I'm feeling like a bit of angry bird myself when I notice I have an email from Auckland Libraries.

"We are now a public space that tolerates a greater level of noise than before. You are not alone in feeling a sense of loss for the days when libraries were a place to come for some quietness and to concentrate. On some days and at certain times of day the libraries are quieter, but this cannot be guaranteed. The library constantly tries to find ways to make our community feel welcome and comfortable and this sometimes means a greater noise level is deemed acceptable," writes a librarian.

My helpful librarian also tells me I've touched on a controversial topic in the library world - the term "shush", that little word we all use to politely tell others to shut it up, "is no longer approved of".

I google and find out that many overseas libraries now even have "no shushing" policies in place.

Noise levels around me rise further as the after-school crowd pours in and I feel a sense of frustration coming on and a need to yowl, wail and howl myself.

But then I stop and have a think. People are at the library. Young people are at the library. With all of life's other distractions, they are here. In a place of learning. Feeling welcome. And comfortable. It may be a bit loud but it's busy and isn't that a good thing? Maybe I'm the one who needs to change and adapt. Maybe I need to lighten up.

The next day I am in my now usual spot when Arrogant Girl walks in with Somewhat Lesser Friend and both plop themselves down right next to me.

"I might get a part-time job soon but I am so not working weekends because weekends are my time for me," she says.

Okay, so I promise not to grumble from now on. And I also promise not to stare at Arrogant Girl when she's talking loud enough for all to hear. But I do not promise not to listen in.

Sometimes, it's kind of hard not to.

Danielle Murray is a freelance writer.

- NZ Herald

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