The Question of Noise in the Library/Learning Commons
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.
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”
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.
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.
Author: Hannah Byrd Little
Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.