“Library Rules”, But From Which Library?

Jason Fried offers this bit of wisdom on the subject of office management:

 When visitors come to our office, one of the first things they notice is how quiet it is. Naturally, one of the first questions they ask is “how do you keep it so quiet?”

My answer is “library rules.”

Everyone knows how to behave in a library. You keep quiet or whisper. You respect people’s personal space. You don’t interrupt people who are reading or working, learning or studying. And if you need to have a full-volume conversation, you hit a private room.

So if you want to keep things quiet at the office, treat it like a library. It works surprisingly well.

Well, I’m glad to hear it. Unfortunately, I take a look around at the end-of-semester madness and I wonder: which library is he talking about? Not mine.

I want to be clear and fair. I’m tickled that Fried thinks so highly of the conditions that a library is (ideally) supposed to provide. It’s ostensibly a place to study, to learn, to think, to research. That requires an environment conducive to such things. When we think of a library we generally think of such a place. Open books, clicking of keyboards, the hushed discussions between patrons as they look over the shelves. It’s a traditional image and traditional images die hard.

Not my library. Not during the last week of the semester (any semester). Not when a significant portion of our students are too rushed with deadlines and finals, too stressed out by their personal lives, too shy (or proud) to ask for help early in the semester when projects are announced, to think of a library in the terms that Fried does.

More than a few of the comments reflect this disconnect between the ideal and the facts on the ground. The truth is that noise is part of life and there is no way to shush people into oblivion. You can’t kick noisy folks out of the office–although technically, you can–but what kind of message does that send your employees and coworkers? For that matter, kicking really noisy folks out of our library has happened but it doesn’t need to be done very often. There’s a staff member on call nearly every minute of the day, and having that presence circulating around the floor does keep the disruptions to a minimum.

It gets even messier. The stories in the comments show clearly that not “everyone” understands the rules of the library the way that Fried does. Behavioral standards differ between neighborhoods, which brings up class, social status, and the differences between public and private space, all of which goes to defining one’s knowledge of library rules, or even the fact that there are such things as library rules. Anyway, that’s another post.

Again, I appreciate the sentiment and admire the effort. We just can’t always replicate it here.

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