School Libraries, Student stuff, Work Stuff

The Sounds of Silence 

Twitter / Buffy Hamilton: Teacher just walked and sa … via kwout

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?

1 thought on “The Sounds of Silence”

  1. Laura, many of our students also crave quiet and silence—they (and our library) are not just about noise although I honestly think it is the social interaction they can enjoy in our library more so than just noise. We do provide quiet corners and spaces for those students; unfortunately, our school architect did not provide any quiet rooms that are easily supervised (they are in the back hallways) where we could provide students additional spaces for quiet time (and I did share that suggestion to him). Short of a soundproof room, though, I think it is nearly impossible to provide the deep silence you describe in a k12 school building, especially as more forego the use of carpet throughout the building because of mold/dust concerns.

    I would love it if school architects would take a cue from some of the contemporary college library designs I’ve seen that do a fantastic job of providing spaces for activity and conversation with those that invite silent contemplation. On one hand, complete silence is an absolute distraction for some people; others, though, do crave it—everyone’s brain is wired deeply and may or may not complete silence relaxing, empowering, or invigorating. However, I do think many of our students value some quiet time with minimal noise more than we might think–we just don’t see it when they are using their school time to engage with their peers at school.


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