Friday, August 1, 2008

Dealing with Distractions

A brief entry today, addressing the topic of libraries and distractions. I was reading Marcel Proust’s essay, appropriately entitled On Reading, and was struck by his descriptions of hours spent reading in profound silences, undisturbed by distractions, except for the distant sound of bells “carrying the time to distant regions, without seeing me, without knowing me, without disturbing me.” Juxtaposition this with Nicholas Carr’s article Is Google Making Us Stupid? cited in my last blog entry and more recently, the July 20 article in the Sunday Times (Great Britain) entitled Stoooopid .... why the Google generation isn’t as smart as it thinks, subtitled The digital age is destroying us by ruining our ability to concentrate. It is easy enough to categorize this class of complaint as mere crankiness, or resistance to change ( the oft mentioned Luddite analogy) on the part of a few benighted souls. However, it is an issue which arises at the library, and one that ought not to be dismissed. In a library environment the digital accessories of everyday life are numerous and potentially intrusive: mobile phones, various platforms for music, computer generated film and music clips, even normal speaking voices. What might seem an irritant outside the library magnifies into a noxious substance inside.

Personally, I do not think we will ever return to the allegedly pristine environment where the profound silences Proust describes permeate the library and distractions are minimal. Libraries are meeting needs and providing services that do not lend themselves to uninterrupted quiet, and distractions are part of that mix. That said, there are quiet areas in the library, especially in the carrels and seating adjacent to the adult stacks where quiet is the norm, and there are study rooms available, by reservation, through the reference desk. The use of cell phones is prohibited outside of certain spaces, and the list of discouraged behaviors is posted throughout the library. Listening to music don headphones and turn down the volume. Then too, on weekdays there are security officers on duty from the hours of 2-8 who will gladly show transgressors the error of their ways. These measures may constitute compromises, but they also reflect the changing nature of library usage, and the necessary balance between different audiences and their expectations.

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