Public Libraries Turn Up The Volume (Literally)

Time To End Silence In Public Libraries?

As public libraries continue their quest to stay relevant in the wake of cuts to their funding and decreased popularity, some are greatly altering their set-ups and making moves to appeal to a younger crowd.

A makeover at the Chicago Public Library has turned one room into a teen-heaven, stacking the "YOUMedia" lab on the ground floor with video game systems, recording equipment, snacks and beanbag chairs. According to an article in Connecticut's "The Day," this lab, which has been open since 2009, draws up to a hundred teenagers daily. They come to record podcasts, shoot videos and hang around after school.

Though all libraries still contain cordoned-off quiet areas for study and reading, many city public libraries are dialing back on the whole "Silence Is Golden" conceit they've long been known for. Twelve other libraries across the country have plans to open similar "high-tech" areas for teens in 2012, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and others already feature coffee bars, CD listening stations, screening rooms, and other kinds of play centers.

In the UK, they've been cranking up the volume even more. The award-winning Get It Loud In Libraries program has been active since 2005, aiming to showcase up-and-coming bands in libraries across Lancashire. Their mission: to allow "kids from 5 to 65 to check out bands at close quarters in a book clad feelgood venue before they hit the proverbial big time."

Some of these changes have drawn criticisms from library purists. Writing for the City Room blog in The New York Times in April of last year, Sung J. Woo lamented the days of studying and reading in silence. The communal desks have now been "transformed," Woo wrote, "into an open forum for children and adults to chat away as if they were hanging out at Starbucks."

Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, helped fund the YOUMedia room in Chicago and believes that changes like these help kids engage with their environments. She says that library users can likely expect more personal and digital interaction in the years to come.

"Kids are very productive in these rooms," she said.

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