Libraries: what are they and so what?

So I was working in my local public library the other day – well, trying to work. I was distracted by the kid on the computer next to me who was playing a computer game. My first point. Is it appropriate for kids to be allowed to play computer games on the computers in public libraries? I suggest that libraries are repositories of knowledge that people either peruse to borrow or access on-site.[1] Given that, playing computer games should not occur in a public library. Libraries aren’t entertainment centers. Yes, perusing and accessing knowledge can be fun. But that doesn’t mean that that which is fun is necessarily perusing or accessing knowledge.

Furthermore, the kid was continuously commenting, not in a particularly loud voice, but certainly loud enough for me, sitting next to him, to hear. My second point. Goes along with the intense irritation I experienced while in the university library a few weeks ago, unable to search the stacks for what I was seeking (books containing arguments) because someone in one of the nearby carrels was talking on her cellphone. Not an emergency conversation, mind you, but a mundane hi-yeah-so-like-whatever one. Also goes along with the ‘group learning’ thing. Is it just me or are people less able to think on their own, silently, these days? In any case, given that libraries are repositories of knowledge that one either peruses to borrow or accesses on site – both of which often require mental effort, requiring concentration, which is inhibited by the distraction of talking aloud – both the kid’s running commentary and the cellphone conversation should not have occurred.

Further still, the kid’s comments were “I killed you. Killed you too. Got you. Killed you.” and so on. Not only distracting, but disturbing. My third point? Given that the library is indeed a public library, I think there are grounds for censorship – could that be considered “hate speech” or “disturbing the peace”? It’s bad enough that the kids’ parents are irresponsibly unaware of the damage being done to their kids, not to mention to the rest of us, by allowing such activity (it desentisizes the kid to death, and it forms an association between killing and fun/entertainment), but there is no excuse for public librarians to be so unaware. And, given the public status (and funding) of the library, they have grounds for acting on their awareness.

[1] But what about all that fiction? Okay, but isn’t it generally ‘serious literature’ – fiction that has, presumably, insight – knowledge – about the human condition? Actually, no. Don’t a lot of libraries have an extensive collection of genre lit (westerns, romances, mysteries…)? So maybe they are community centres, indoor parks, if you will. But then where oh where is the quiet place? Are there no quiet public spaces left??

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