A Reflection on the School Library as a Quiet Place in a Noisy World

We all know the stereotype of a mean librarian. She (always a she, naturally) wears her hair in a severe bun, she never smiles, and she peers at noisy students over her horn-rimmed glasses. She probably hates kids, and she definitely doesn’t want them touching her books. As a profession, we work hard to upend that outdated stereotype. We create exciting makerspaces in corners of our libraries. We let students bring their lunch and hang out during study halls. We teach coding, engineering, and science. We celebrate learning in a big way, and we definitely don’t shush anymore.

This is all great and so important. As schools cut certified librarians and replace us with paraprofessionals and parent volunteers, we have to demonstrate how we transform learning in new and meaningful ways. But have we strayed too far? Have we lost some of the students who most need what a traditional library offers? Has the pendulum swung too far, and is it time for it swing back just a little?

Recently, I had a student tell me that she doesn’t come to the library during the day because it is just “too much.” Too much noise, too much going on, and too much distraction. She’s constantly stressed out because it’s too loud and crowded everywhere in the building. Hearing this broke my heart. Students like this are the reason I became a librarian, and what I’m hearing is that I am failing to meet her needs and the needs of other students like her.

As an introvert, I get this. It’s tough to be an introvert in education. We have to be on all the time because we interact with hundreds of people daily. Librarians never get to close our doors to take a few desperately needed quiet moments to ourselves. I know I cannot be the only person in my school who craves a little peace and quiet. If not the library, where?

How do we make sure our libraries truly are for everyone not just in our collections, but in the way the space is used as well?

Some libraries have back rooms, quiet corners, and separate computer lab areas, but many do not. My library is one giant, open space. What happens in one area of the library, happens throughout the entire space. It’s beautiful, and powerful education happens here, but it is impossible to have quiet study areas and active learning happening at the same time.

One of the Shared Foundations in the AASL Standards Alignment for the School Library is “Include.” This foundation specifically asks us to “Organize facilities to enhance the use of and ensure equitable access to information, resources, and services to ALL learners” (Alignment 2.B.2). For now, my plan is to offer time after school for students to come in, wind down, and decompress from their day before they head home on the later bus. I will continue to look for ways to incorporate more time during the school day for every type of learner.

Participating in the AASL Leadership Induction Program has given me many opportunities to reflect on my role as a teacher-leader and my impact on the students I serve. Not only has it forced me to step outside my little bubble of comfort, but it has given me the insight to ask myself tough questions. I’ve learned strategies to make changes in the way I look at issues affecting my students. With inspiration from and the support of my cohort I grow as a teacher, librarian, and leader every day. I know my thinking on this issue isn’t done, and I encourage everyone to consider ways we can transform learning for all of our students.

Author: Katie LaFever

Katie LaFever is a prek- 5 School Librarian in West Seneca, NY. She loves spending time outdoors, trying new restaurants, and hanging out with her family. Her hobbies include introverting, reading, and naps. Follow Katie on Twitter @LaFeverKatie, on TikTok @mrslafeverisreading and on Instagram as @mrs_lafever_is_reading.

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons, Professional Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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7 replies

  1. Katie, thanks for sharing the personal story reflecting on your interaction with that student. You’re right, we often get caught up in making our spaces vibrant 21st century libraries that we unconsciously forget about those who can’t thrive when overstimulated. In my previous high school, we had created a solution to this with glass enclosures and white noise, so I appreciate you giving me something to think about again.

  2. No makerspace here. My high school’s population is growing out of its 3-year-old building, and I’ve asked students what they want as we move forward in designing additions. The common areas and halls are filled with voices, but there is no place to study or visit quietly. With support from my administrator, we are committed to keeping the library a quiet zone…not “silent” zone–just quiet.

  3. Great minds think alike, Katie! My library was recently remodeled and we are now one huge open space. The idea was to create smaller spaces with modular furniture, and it works in some instances. There should be something for everyone in the library, and that includes a quiet, comfortable space to study and read. District administration was going for a certain glass wall look, and while some think it looks modern, we all wish we had our previous design where we had both collaborative and quiet spaces for students. I can relate to your comment in the article, ” What happens in one area, happens throughout the entire space.”

  4. I am not a school librarian. My area was as a medical librarian and those libraries tend to be quiet. I am now retired and as a patron, I disliked going to public libraries that were all one big room. The one near my former home in NE Harris County was the big room type. I just checked out books and left because it was so noisy. Now I live in Georgetown, TX and I love the design of our award winning public library. The kid’s section is separate from the adult section. It is a library that I love to go to and enjoy some time quiet, browsing , working on genealogy or picking out an interesting magazine. I was one of those kids that needed quiet time during the school day and I’m glad I grew up during a time that is was ok to have a quiet library!

  5. I’m a school librarian and I completely agree with this. I thought that I was alone in having a quiet space! My library is relatively small and open. Right now, I’ve got 11 11th/12th graders in here with barely a peep. The way I see it, from the moment a student enters through the school’s front doors to the moment he/she leaves, it’s an extroverts dream. Loud, social, and many times, chaotic. The library is a space for quiet study or just relaxing. Quiet socializing is fine. My priority is the student who wants to work without disruption. I lay down the law at the beginning of the year and reinforce when needed. My introverts are happy and so are the extroverts who also need the focus of a quiet room.

  6. This is an issue I struggle with too. I am pretty certain that to think deeply one needs a place of focus and quiet, so that the thoughts you hear are truly your own. A library used to be a kind of sanctury of thought and contemplation. It was a place where one could go and experience the thoughts of others by opening a book, and find respite from the busy-ness of the world to contemplate and discover your own ideas, thoughts, feelings about life, art, history, even the pleasure of uncovering a good mystery… now, too often school libraries are “media centers” and learning commons, which often means glorified student center, a place for activity and business but not as much personal exploration or practice thinking deeply and intentionally —which is basically what the act of reading is, intentional and deep thinking. Libraries need to make a quiet space a priority. It is hard in new large open area libraries, like mine. But stillness, and quiet are still important, and need to be valued, and where better to teach that value than the library, the sanctuary of learning, the chapel of thought.

  7. Hi everybody. I created a quiet zen corner in my school library in September and it became so popular that being alone, I cannot keep it really quiet…Everybody is fighting to be there. The library is a big open space and I cannot break the room, without creating spaces where the students will hide and do what they want. Would anyone have an advice on how I can keep that quiet corner actually quiet? I’m thinking to have a booking system perhaps…Thank you all!

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