At the NEIT conference there were a number of people talking about their libraries as not just being a place for silent study, and when our Ambassadors take families on tours of the new space they’re usually quick to point out that you can actually talk in the Hackley library. If we’re at all honest with ourselves, we remember how difficult it was for us to remain absolutely silent in the school library of our youth – why should we assume that today’s students have it any easier?
As a Quaker, I appreciate silence and am saddened by our society’s constant need for noise and fuss. Silence is something we have to intentionally carve into our days, and into our spaces; noise is the norm. (NB: I mean extra silence, not the quiet noises one hears naturally in life – I highly recommend Into Great Silence as an example of noisy silence). Our students often block out noise with more noise, using earphones to create their own soundtracks. We do try to keep the noise level down to a dull roar, and occasionally students police the space, asking peers and neighbors to lower their voices (just this past week, two younger students were loudly talking and someone a number of computers away said “you’re sitting next to each other: you don’t need to yell”).
So if there’s talking allowed in the library, where do our students find silence? Where is the place that they can escape to to center, or to reflect, or to simply read without distractions? How do we, as adults in the community and as a society, teach students that silence is valuable and that listening to the sounds of silence is not to be feared?