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Eva Glettner

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The Library Voice is Dead

Posted: 08/24/2012 11:58 am

It seems like everywhere you turn, someone is on a cell phone. Remember the days when people were absolutely unreachable? You had some change in your pocket to use a pay phone but you weren't readily available. I miss those days. Are we really so important that we need to be glued to our smart phones because the incoming email is of utmost importance and may actually change our lives? I doubt it. We are just too "on." There are certain places where we can count on a little peace and quiet. Places like...THE LIBRARY. Sorry, I'm shouting. I would never do that in a library. Why? Because a library is a place where a person can collect his or her thoughts and not have to worry about being disrupted.

There is something called a "library voice." It is a legitimate entry in the Urban Dictionary. This is the definition: the quiet voice used to speak to a study partner in the library, often accompanied by a "shush".

Folks, hopefully you will be as appalled as I am with this next bit of info: In many libraries in Los Angeles (West Hollywood, I'm talking to you), it is completely acceptable to talk on your cell phone any darn place you choose. In the stacks, reading corners, and while perusing magazines. As a matter of fact, if you politely ask a librarian to quiet a neighbor with a booming voice calling his entire cell phone favorites list, you will be told the following: "That's allowed."

What?

"Being completely obsequious with absolutely no regard for anyone's feelings but your own?"

"Ya, that."

I didn't believe the librarian, so I resorted to the online "ask a librarian" feature of the website. Below is a transcript of that enlightening conversation:

1:31 me is there any rule against talking on a cell phone IN A LIBRARY?
1:31 librarian Sorry about that. We don't have a policy on cell phone use. Customers are allowed to use them.

1:32 me all libraries?
1:32 librarian The library in general is somewhat changing these days.

1:32 me I'm a blogger and I will be writing about this.
1:32 librarian Yes. However I would recommend to locate a library with a study room.
1:33 me just to clarify, all libraries in the County allow cell phones?

1:33 librarian Yes, that is correct.
1:33 me does this vary state by state?
librarian is typing
1:34 me hmm...well, I suppose that the patron provided me with fodder for an article, despite his rudeness.
1:34 me so, that's a plus.
1:34 me thanks for your help!
1:35 librarian Most libraries I know allow them. Anytime. Hope you find a quieter spot in the library.

I was struck by two things in this short interlude. The first is that "the library in general is somewhat changing these days." What the heck does that mean? It's not a place where you can go and meet people that are respectful of sharing space? The second: "Hope you find a quieter spot in the library." I love how this became MY issue. I was sitting and doing my work and the man on his cell phone is being perfectly reasonable in his rudeness?

Let's pose this another way. I have kids. Perhaps there isn't a sign telling them that they can't run amok in a library, but it's a given. That is disruptive and just plain rude. But since the library doesn't have any rules against children running wild, that would be okay, right? No. It wouldn't. I have a responsibility to my fellow neighbors. There are places where it is completely appropriate to be loud and energetic (beach, playground, soccer field), and places where it just isn't.

I asked the same question on the New York Library system, and received a different response.

Patron (that's me): Are you allowed to talk on a cell phone in the library? Thanks in advance.

Librarian 1: In most libraries cell phone conversations are permitted in selected areas only. For more information about a particular library, be sure to directly contact staff there:

A general overview of NYPL's Rules and Regulations can be found online here:

We hope this helps!

Yes, Librarian 1 in New York. That is super helpful and proactive. Maybe it's just LA being LA with it's self-important, always on, paparazzi culture of excess. However, this is happening with the risk of messing with the sanctity of libraries everywhere. Los Angeles, get a clue. You're not that important.

 

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