Noise in the One-Room Library

The Question of Noise in the Library/Learning Commons

Noise in the Library

Club time in the library

In the comments section of the 2015 post “Learning Commons: Theory to practice” is a question from Jessica Koos in Long Island, NY. Jessica’s writes:

My concern is to how to balance the needs of each group of users within the same library. Have you experienced any conflicts among the different types of users that utilize your library? I would imagine that some students get frustrated at the noise levels, while others might request more space for collaboration, etc. I am just curious as to your thoughts and experiences in regards to this aspect. Thanks!

At the time of this post, I had no real solution. This a personal struggle since I sometimes refer to myself as the “Loudbrarian” in the “Loudbrary.” My library is a very large open room where voices and other noises carry. I try to use shelving and partitions to create nooks and reading areas. However, as a 6-12th grade boarding school, we need visible sight lines for supervision. Needless to say, this is something that is still a challenge in our facility.

Tips and Tricks

Here are techniques we use to make our library both collaborative as well as a peaceful place to study and read.

Noise Masking

Noise masking with smart speakers

First, one of the simplest solutions are earbuds/headphones. When students want to watch a video or listen to music in the library, we remind them to use their headphones.

Another way to keep noise to a suitable level is using ambient music or sounds. We have several Echo dots strategically placed throughout the library. Ray Palin discusses this idea in his Knowledge Quest article “Looking for Peace and Quiet.” He writes “Overcoming noise with other sounds such as white noise or environmental soundscapes, a technique typically called masking, has been used successfully in a variety of libraries.”

Finally, a great solution is creating zones. Diana Rendina shares great ideas about zones in her post “6 Active Learning Spaces.” Take a look at Diana’s post about zone signage on her Instagram. A helpful article from a popular vendor about creating collaborative library spaces includes the idea of zones.

Research about Library Noise

Take a look at this fascinating article “Library Noise” from The Library Quarterly published in 1938. The study is about a library that is located at the intersection of two busy streets. The technology for measuring sound in decibels was very new at the time. Some of the decibel readings are comical. Some examples include “Chair is pushed back at other end of room 5 -I6 decibels” and “Book is dropped on desk one-half length of room away – I0 decibels”

Sound Measurement

Measuring sound in the library

I decided to gather some decibel readings in my own library. Using an inexpensive decibel reader reveals that my library ranges are from 45-60 decibels most of the time. I am not sure if I want to know what level the after school and after-lunch crowd generate. The Best Apps for Teaching & Learning 2018 list includes Science Journal. This app turns your phone into a sound sensor and you can measure decibels in your library.

Tips from Coworking Facilities and Public Libraries

Coworking is all the rage right now. Coworking facilities are popping up all over town. After reading an article in Book Riot about libraries being the original coworking space, I decided to visit a few places to see how noise is handled in the coworking world. I found that coworking adults, unlike middle school librarians, do not worry about cozy nooks turning into kissing booths. However, there were some neat things that I discovered at these facilities. These workplaces have cool multi-function furniture, typically a coffee or cafe area, and lots of technology.

Technology Engagement Center

Technology Engagement Center

This week I am touring a technology-rich branch of the local public library system. The location signage reads Technology Engagement Center. The library director calls the facility a “shelf-less library.” This center is adjacent to an elementary school and the facility will offer a makerspace for children in October. The branch librarian, Kathleen Tyree, remarks that the patrons include several writers and self-employed people.

See the photos from my tours.

See the sources in this post.

Tech Engagement Center lounge area

Tech Engagement Center lounge area

avoid noise Conference room

Tech Engagement Center – Conference room





Author: Hannah Byrd Little

I’m a dedicated Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle, leveraging my background in higher education libraries to guide students through the crucial transition from school to college and beyond.

I am honored to have served as the AASL Chair for the Independent School Section in 2023 and am excited to begin my upcoming role as Director-At-Large for the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) later this year, following my previous experience as a Member Guide in the AASL Emerging Leaders program. These appointments reflect my commitment to advancing library education and professional development on a national scale.

With experience in state-level leadership through the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL), including serving as TASL President in 2012, I bring a wealth of knowledge to my role. My educational background includes certifications as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, a Bachelor of Science in Communications (Advertising & Public Relations), a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies (Education & Information Systems), and a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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2 replies

  1. This blog post has been helpful, so, many thanks! Do you find the speakers on your Echo Dots are adequate to the task of sound masking? And where did you find that sweet outlet cradle for the Dot? I’m looking through Dot accessories, but haven’t seen that exact product yet.

  2. We have several dots throughout our 10,000 sq ft facility.
    We had some disagreement about music preference so we are mostly using nature sounds

    The Wall Mount is from Amazon we purchased these on Prime Day at a discounted rate – Outlet Wall Mount Holder Stand 2 Packs for Echo Dot 2nd Generation Plug in St… via @amazon

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