I remember libraries as a child. They were quiet, austere places. No food or chewing gum was allowed to enter, and librarians had lips permanently puckered from saying “Shhhh!” We tiptoed between towering shelves of books in hushed silence. We spoke in whispers when we dared to speak at all. Our books were chosen and checked out with a minimum of noise. The librarians’ well-oiled carts rattled like cattle trucks through the hushed corridors.
But something happened between the time I graduated from university and the time I got my children their first library cards. Libraries transformed and reinvented themselves.
Comfortable couches in conversational arrangements and large tables that encouraged discussion replaced the tiny desks tucked into dark corners. Children were invited in to flop into bean bag chairs with their favourite books. Librarians stopped saying “Shhhh!” and began leading children in songs, belted out in the middle of the library for all to hear.
No Food or Drink signs gave way to cafés inside the library. Now you can browse your favourite titles while having a coffee or eating lunch. You can sit and chat with friends—loudly—and no raptor librarians swoop upon you with a scowl.
Community groups began to meet in the library. Not in some ante-chamber tucked away behind a soundproof door, but right smack in the middle of the library. Knitting and gossiping, playing board games, having raucous meetings.
Televisions and computers showed up, and now you can watch a football match, or play video games in the library.
Libraries have awakened. They have roused from their quiet slumber and become vibrant community hubs. The smell of book binding glue is now mixed with the aroma of fresh coffee and scones. The turning of pages is matched by the tap of keyboards. The hum of conversation overpowers the hum of the fluorescent lights.
I spend significant time in several different libraries, using them as an office when I can’t be in my own. I am not alone. Most days I have to fight for space at a table and a place to plug in my laptop. Some days it is almost unbearably noisy, and I have to resort to noise-cancellation headphones in order to concentrate. It is a far cry from the libraries of my youth.
I don’t mind. What better backdrop for our communities than that of books? What better place to go to engage and be inspired? To learn and grow?
Long live the library!