In a public library serving a diverse population consisting of both children and adults, the issue of noise level inevitably comes up. As a children’s librarian concerned with creating a space that both inspires creative exploration and in-depth learning, I sometimes find it hard to strike the right balance between tomb-like silence and a marching band practice. I like to think the children’s room should ideally have a “constructive hum.” But add crying babies, the pitter-patter of toddler feet, beeping computers, and the ambient noise from passing fire engines and nearby construction zones, and it becomes hard to keep things to a low roar- nevermind a “hum.”
Generally, I don’t have a problem with noise. If a baby is entering their babbling phase and needs to repeat “ba! ba! ba! ba!”, or a toddler wants to bang a board book on the floor, or a child is starting to read aloud for the first time, or a group of 5th graders are collaborating on a project, I don’t think the librarian should be concerned with shushing them. All of the above are learning activities- essential to the development and stimulation of a child’s growing mind.
And yet, very often, librarians do just that. Even me. And while a child having a temper tantrum is quite different than an impromptu read-aloud, I nevertheless find myself shushing kids when I wish I could just soundproof the room and let them be kids. While keeping everyone- including adults trying to find a bit of peace and quiet- happy and comfortable, is a Shhh-Free Zone possible? Being that my own library is over 100 years old, has an open stairway, and has absolutely no carpeting and lots of wood- it’s a virtual echo chamber. Carnegie Hall envys our acoustics.
So, I ask you smart, creative librarians out there: what is your noise policy? In a perfect world, all children’s rooms would be separate and soundproofed and ideally have distinct sections for babies and toddlers, beginning readers, and older kids. In lieu of perfection, what solutions have you found? Can shushing ever be wholey abandoned? Or are we doomed to forever hold our fingers to our lips and remind our little users about “library voices”?