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(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

My high school employed a stereotypical mean librarian—if you can believe the tales told by my classmates. Nellie looked like our mascot—a bulldog—and you could just imagine her walking down the halls—forcefully, of course—to the rhythm of “Marian the Librarian” without the good looks and amenable personality of Shirley Jones in The Music Man movie. Luckily, I didn’t have much free time in my schedule so I mostly avoided the school library in lieu of the town library where the librarians were more reasonable.

Most libraries have been my refuge, not stale places where the slightest sound brings about censure. From the dark small town library of my earliest years—a cool retreat on hot summer days—to the bright larger town library of my preteen and teen years to the modern, industrial library where I studied almost daily in college, libraries have seemed a pretty good mix of quiet enough yet not so stuffy I couldn’t make a little noise myself. However, the new library is much more of a gathering place. For now the stacks and stacks of books remain, but for how long?

For some the library is like a coffee shop only larger. They ignore the signs about turning off cell phones to walk among the aisles talking—sometimes in volumes louder than normal indoor voices—to invisible listeners in a manner no different than if they were talking in private as is so common pretty much everywhere these days. And when they encounter their friends, they shout across the room, having complete conversations without moving closer together.

In college I went to the library to keep myself from turning to all those pressing problems back in my room—you know, such as toenails that needed to be clipped or posters I should rearrange on the walls or snacks I just had to find—and to limit the distractions from my likely cluttered personal space. Today I go to the library to keep from doing just one more thing here or there (or at least thinking about doing those things), searching out snacks, and feeling distracted from looking at all the clutter at home. Plus, I take pleasure in turning off my cell phone so, for once, no one will contact me.

Oh sure, I enjoy having short conversations with friends I might encounter, but I always try to keep my voice volume not much stronger than as if I were, say, a sports announcer for golfing events. I’m not trying to emulate an auctioneer—everyone does not need to hear every word I say.

Truly, I don’t need to ensconce myself in a tomb-like little room to get myself to focus. In fact, I don’t want to do so. I’ve never really been the sort to take myself away to some study desk—I can study and/or work with a little commotion. After all, I was successful at managing to study in the somewhat social atmosphere of a college library before I became a mom who had to write by the side of wherever my kids were doing activities such as music and sporting lessons and practices. However, I always preferred the more muffled noises from something such as swimming lessons to the loud ki-yaps from the sidelines of taekwondo classes.

Since we live in a new era, both of what is considered proper manners and of how we approach literacy, I’m the one who is going to have to adjust if I still want my library to be a refuge. That’s why, after I plugged in my laptop at a table yesterday, I also plugged in my ear buds and went to the beach, so to speak. The waves on the shore pounded—gently, of course—just enough to cover up for noises from people who are either young enough never to have had the misfortune of being shushed by someone like Nellie or who have buried deeply the somewhat discourteous lessons the Nellies of days gone by were trying to teach about courtesy.

The next time a young man wants to ask me if I have any hand sanitizer or if a couple starts an argument by me or some guy stands nearby shouting into his Bluetooth about nothing in particular, I am turning up the waves. No, I cannot hear you now—la, la, la, la, la.

If I can get to and stay at that beach, I can still also journey anywhere else my mind chooses to go. And that has always been the true magic of libraries.

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