Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Silence and The Concept of a Public Library

Incivility abounds unabated in postmodern America. Having gone to our public library to grade some of my mountain of papers on an uncluttered desk, I was greeted by a noisy group who just got out of a meeting in a small room. They opened the door, talked loudly for some time, then even talked loudly outside the room on the way out. I used the once universal "Shhhhhhh!"--but to no avail. They may have never heard me. Pointless banter prevailed.

Americans simply cannot shut up in public, even in libraries. They abominate silence and have no respect for it. The concept of a public library, a place for reading to be done in quietude, is beyond (or beneath) them.

Now for something constructive--a shock to some of you, I know. Insert silence into your life. If you teach or preach, take a few moments of silence at the beginning, middle, or end of your presentation. Do not fear it; listen for it; listen to it; listen in it. Spend time reading, thinking, and praying with no sound track, no visual wallpaper, no unnecessary noise. When someone pauses to find the right word in a conversation, let them find it; do not insert your own word to break up the their contemplative search.

The Book of Revelation rather inexplicably says that at one point in John the Revelators vision, "There was silence in heaven for about a half an hour." That is part of what makes it heaven. Why not try to bring some of it to earth?


Tim said...


What is there to say, but "Amen"?

Jim said...

And another hearty "Amen" to that. Even the Borders near our house is more library-like than our library.

MJ said...

One more reason why governments should not provide funding for libraries - the name is a cloak for their true purpose, "community centers." Can one even conduct decent research in public libraries? I'd stick with private libraries and support them.

Joseph J. Truhler said...

I wholeheartedly agree! Public libraries have gone too far from their roots. It is no suprise to me that the Boise public library's biggest section on the first floor is video rentals. Does this strike anyone else as odd?

I might suggest checking out the local college library scene. I know a lot of them devote an entire floor to quiet study, and it is usually pretty strictly kept to.

Frank Walton said...

Yup, noise in the library is like a cell phone during a movie.

Expax said...

Hopefully you are not a Library-Nazi

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

To Ben F: I am not a Nazi of any kind, thank you very much. That word should be reserved for moral debauchery on a par with the Third Reich and not cheapened by hyphenating it: library-Nazi, soup-Nazi, etc.

Joe: This library is close to our home. There aren't any community college libraries very close, I'm afraid. I don't grade papers there very often, so it isn't a terrible problem. Still...

If you'd look at the library records on me, you'd find I check out far more CD and videos than books. Horrors! But there is an explanation. I buy most all the books I read and I own thousands of them. I don't typically buy more entertaining things, especially videos.

Susan said...

Libraries are wonderful resources for things like DVDs and CD recordings, particularly when one wishes to become familiar with different musical genres or particular artists. DVD's are also wonderful alternatives for someone like me who cannot afford to travel but who is interested in the world. There are many travel DVD's that are interesting and while by far not as helpful as the "real thing" can be good. Some libraries, such as Koebel Public Library, in keep a good collection of such items.

But libraries are not community centers in the sense that they are places to "hang out" and socialize. Some libraries have built on or sectioned off coffee-shop areas to accomodate a need for this, and that is fine, however inside the library no one should even need to say "Shhhhhh!"

Jeremy said...

I have to confess that during my time in seminary, I would have incurred your wrath, Dr. G. It seemed impossible that a few philosophy students could get together anywhere, and keep it quiet.

That said, I know exactly what you mean. Being a lowly adjunct, I have no office in which to grade/prepare for class. I tried to use the univeristy library a few times, but was always frustrated by the chatter of students who should be studying themselves (I see their grades--they SHOULD be studying!)

As far as injecting silence into our everyday worlds, I do my best. I purposely turn off TV and radio when I know the house is about to become high-traffic. Then I plant myself right in the middle of the living room with a book. That way I was there first, and it would just be rude to interupt my reading--the silence gets enforced a little bit at that point.

As far as silence before prayer, I think you're right on. It gives people time to quite their sould in preparation of communicating with God Almighty. I know you typically do this prior to opening class. However, when I had breakfast with Tim McGrew last Friday, he just bowed his head in silence. I knew you guys were friends, so I thought he would eventually pray out loud. Honestly, I didn't know if I was supposed to pray or what. I figured it out though--we were just praying silently. It was kind of funny. (Dr. McGrew, if you see this, I just chuckled to myself. I thought, here is a guy very similar to Dr. G., and I'm gonna love WMU.)

Josh S. said...

Like others have said: Amen. Can we ever go back to silence? Is an industrial-consumer society capable of it with the amount of distractions and gizmos we buy?

Keith said...

What timing! I am in our seminary's library right now trying to complete a theology paper. The students at the table right behind me, who I gather from their LOUD conversation are graduating this weekend, are so disruptive and rude that I've just put down my research to check a few blogs...imagine stumbling upon this post right now! I totally agree: this is not the place to congregate and goof-off. I'm all for congregating and goofing-off, but not in the library. I expect more out of grad students.

Greg Arthur said...

Silence is a powerful discipline. During Lent we spent 1 minute in silence after the sermons in my church. It was amazing to actually have time to reflect on God's word after hearing it.

Jonathan_Samuelson said...

Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

~T.S. Eliot, Choruses from The Rock

But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.
~Habakkuk 2:20 (ESV)

BJS said...

I agree with the spirit of the post, but, for what it's worth, I am typing this in a beautiful section of the UCONN library right now and ... it .. is .... blissfully... silent.
And there's lots of fellow students around me. There's this beautiful large room (I'm talking huge) with massive oak tables and nice chairs, (each table has power outlets and internet connections and nice lamps -- and the whole campus is wireless). It's got really high ceilings (like 30 feet). The room is on the edge of one part of the building so 3 of the 4 walls of the rectangle, from floor to ceiling, are just windows -- with a beautiful, stunning view of the entire campus. There are several signs leading up to the room that say "QUIET -- SILENT STUDY ROOM". And so forth. People really respect it. OCCASIONALLY (like it just happened as I type this), you can hear some sounds from the library entrance a short distance away. but on the whole it is pretty darn good. Apparently the room was paid for through some big endowment (it has a name... I forget the name right now). I've studied elsewhere in the library, and, actually the noise level is fairly quiet throughout, especially on the 4th floor. But this room takes the cake. It's awesome.

I must say that I do like UCONN.

BJS said...

Oh yeah, I also forgot to mention that several of the buildings on campus have big huge silent study rooms like this. (no kidding).

Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes. There's nothing I love better, I have to admit, than a quiet place (even if in public) with a book, and preferably coffee.

We are blessed with one of the best of public libraries nearby which seems to have a minimal amount of noise. And a cafe safely apart from the library area.

Good thoughts on silence, Dr. Groothuis. We are, I'm afraid, afraid of silence.

dhyams said...

Concerning the topic of silence and the successes and shortcomings of various buildings and institutions in protecting such, I must commend my law school. In its library is a large reading room dubbed, "the technology free zone".It is a large room full of leather chairs and couches, old tables, and thousands of old books. No laptops are allowed, no cellphones are allowed, and of course, no talking is allowed. It is, in a word, beautiful.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

"In its library is a large reading room dubbed, "the technology free zone".It is a large room full of leather chairs and couches, old tables, and thousands of old books. No laptops are allowed, no cellphones are allowed, and of course, no talking is allowed. It is, in a word, beautiful. "

I hope to begin law school next year.

Susan said...

...a sufficient reading room indeed a technology free zone... a room with a large bright window, arranged with a leather chair and couch, an old table, and a hundred or so old books. No phone, TV, surround-sound system, computer, iPod, or electronic games. It is, in a word, my