The Central Library in Manchester used to be known as the noisiest in the country. It wasn’t that the subscribers were any rowdier than anywhere else; it was the circular, domed design of the main reading room.
The slightest sound would echo around the walls like whispers in St Paul’s and even closing a book too firmly was enough to draw pointed looks and tuts of annoyance that themselves would repeat round the room annoying even more readers.
It is totally silent at the moment because it is undergoing a major redevelopment, but even if it wasn’t it would be an oasis of tranquillity compared to your typical local library.
I was at Stockport Local Studies Library yesterday and one person there had a particularly annoying ring tone on his mobile. He didn’t switch it off and iIt kept on ringing as he made his way to the door to take the call.
It’s easy enough to forget to turn off your mobile or switch it to silent in these situations, but he didn’t learn from his mistake. His phone rang twice more and each time he went through the same walking to the door performance.
The thing was, no-one seemed to find it unusual or unacceptable. There were no turned heads and certainly no librarian hushing him with index finger to their lips.
I’m not sure when noisy libraries became acceptable. I remember getting a serious telling off by a librarian about ten years ago when my mobile rang even though I switched it off within seconds. Now they seem the norm.
It also appears acceptable to have loud library conversations these days. It certainly happens a lot at the otherwise excellent Tameside Local Studies Library in Ashton.
I for one find it really off putting and a poor aid to concentration, but it seems that I’m the odd one out.
Mark my words, when future historians seek to identify the beginning of the end of western civilisation, they will point to the day that libraries took down their ‘Silence!’ signs.