Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Shhh! It’s a library

Posted by lpearle on 28 March 2010

Oops – we’re not supposed to say that any more, are we?  It’s all about the “sounds of learning”.

I’ve been thinking about this over the past two Sundays.  Last week, in Montreal, I went to the Greene Centre to attend Meeting for Worship.  The greeter welcomed me and asked if it were my first Meeting; I said that I’d been to Montreal Meeting two years ago and that I attended in New York State.  She misunderstood, thinking that this was only my second Meeting ever.  Her comment was what sparked my thinking: “It’s so nice to see young people return.  Too often they only come once. I think the silence frightens them.”

I think the silence frightens them.

That’s stayed with me and this week, after Meeting, During afterthoughts, I said that to me, the silence was a real treat, something to look forward to.  Of course, it’s not absolute silence, but the stillness and peace of sitting for an hour… bliss.

During the TEDxNYED conference I was speaking with a friend about her library, which will undergo some minor renovations this summer.  We talked about silence in libraries.  The thing is, do you want to make the silence your daily (or hourly) battle, or do you just give up and allow students to talk (albeit at what I call a dull roar)?  Her library is silent, the assumption being that there is no other place in school that is silent and that some students need it.

One of the newly accepted truths of today is that students are learning differently than they used to, that they need to collaborate.  Nonsense.  Students haven’t changed.  Our methods have.  If you took one of my current students and had them go K-12 using the methods and curriculum that we used in the 70s, they’d learn just as much as any of my friends (or I) did.  Collaboration took place occasionally, and the same problems I see today existed then (one member of the group doing more of the work than the others, one member not contributing, etc.).  Let’s not fool ourselves that there’s been an evolution in student abilities – the change has been in how we educate.

Another of those accepted truths is that students can multitask.  They can’t.  Continuous partial attention, and our agreeing that this is not necessarily a bad thing, coupled with our refusal to teach the skill of paying attention for a long period of time (Sesame Street, I blame you!), has hurt, not helped, students.  Too many recent graduates have difficulties in the real world of work, where they must concentrate on one thing, where using your iPod and checking Facebook/Twitter/personal e-mail isn’t part of your distraction toolkit.

So, what would be so bad about having one space where silence is important, where concentrating is encouraged, and where we don’t assume that simply because we’re in the 21st century, all 20th century ideas (and behaviors) are wrong?  As we inch closer to moving into the rebuilt library, these are the things I’m considering.

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One Response to “Shhh! It’s a library”

  1. Keeping the library quiet is a constant battle, I agree. We have silent areas, but they are in our one big room. The difference is that the silent areas are study carrels, and we have about 30 of them around the perimeter, in a U shape around the book aisles. They are often full of kids studying on their own, or trying to. People say those are out-dated too, but in my library they are a popular place to choose to study. They can charge their laptops in their own little cube, and plug into the network if the wireless is acting up. Choosing to sit in one tells others: “I am here to study quietly. Don’t bother me.” Will you have carrels in your new library? Think about it – they help the kids who need to hunker down and focus.

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