The Noisy Library
Several years ago, during the first phases of construction for a brand new library on the campus of Central Baptist College, someone (I can’t remember who) asked me what kind of a library I wanted. My response was immediate: a noisy one. At the time, I didn’t realize the term “a noisy library” would get picked up and repeated many more times in the years to follow. Today, I still find myself using the word “noisy” to describe our library. As I sit here and write this, there is a low din of noise in the library outside my office. It’s the noise of students talking, typing, laughing, getting a coffee drink whizzed up in Café 52’s blender and even playing some weird card game that requires them to slap cards forcefully down on the table.
The term “noisy library” has become part of my language, but it’s more than that. It’s become a source of pride, a mantra and a philosophy. I don’t want a quiet library. The presence of noise indicates this building is full of people who are using it in a myriad of ways. If students walk through these library doors, that means we have a chance to hook them into staying. I don’t care if they just walk in here to use the computer, or visit with their friends, or get a coffee. If they are here, then library staff have a chance to make a connection, to help them find what they need. The Story Library is lucky to be on the campus of Central Baptist College because it’s small enough to be perfect. We are grateful that we get to see the same kids over and over again in the library. It means that we get to know them. It means we get more chances to provide service. If we do our job correctly, it means they will come back. Maybe they come back with a pizza that they eat while they study (true story), but we are fine with that.
Over the years, this library has grown to be more service-oriented. We provide resources, of course. We provide research help, of course. But for today’s college student, it’s important they also feel connected. Studies have shown that connecting with a librarian actually increases student retention.1 We want this library to make that kind of difference. At the beginning of the school year, I want returning students to say, “I have to go by the library and say ‘Hi.’” The service we provide here – be it computer access, books, journals, or puzzle-time – is customer-oriented. The students are our customers and it’s our job to help them.
When I tell other librarians in Arkansas that I have a noisy library, they look at me as if they don’t quite believe me. It’s a radical idea for a place where silence is the traditional preference. In a world where even the existence of libraries is being questioned, we have to be willing to break the mold and abandon traditional ideas that have put a barrier between librarian and student. The mission of CBC is to “transform lives.” At Story Library, sometimes that means we direct them towards resources for a paper or a project. Sometimes it means we work with them at the computer to help with APA citations. But sometimes it means we stop what we are doing, sit down and work on a puzzle with a student while they talk about their lives. Sometimes it means we find an extra Bible and give it to them because no one else has. Sometimes it means we tempt them into our offices with a jar full of candy on the desk so they will hang out for a few minutes while we learn more about them. Either way, its service, and, hopefully, transforming. And if gets noisy, oh well!
Rachel Whittingham, Library Director