WINDSOR -- American libraries are a great treasure. In a world where there isn't a lot of largesse, where graciousness and civility are sometimes hard to come by, anybody can go to the library and find knowledge, comfort, entertainment, and a space for peace and quiet. Free books, every magazine you could want, and a nice chair to plop down and read.
Not only that, but librarians are trained and educated to help you find what you need and ensure safety, comfort, and support in your pursuit of happiness. It's very American in the best sense of who we are.
Thanks to Andrew Carnegie who made it all happen. From the goodness and wisdom of one man's heart, the bounty is shared in every small town and great city in America. I love libraries.
I frequent five of them on a regular basis. I think what I love most about them, aside from the free books on loan and the access to magazines and papers I don't have subscriptions to, is the peace and quiet. Libraries offer the extraordinary opportunity and privilege for peace and quiet just to sit and read.
That's why it alarms me a little to notice that many libraries today have come to resemble hotel lobbies where loud talking is generally accepted and "quiet rooms" are relegated to separate corners for those who actually want to read. I trace this deterioration of peace and quiet in the library to the invasion of computer terminals.
I don't know why this may be. Computer usage in libraries (I ,of course, use computers in the library all the time) is solitary, quiet, and a great gift.
I think the main reason quiet is being banished from libraries is that many people have lost sight of the value in it, don't practice it in general, and we have long since grown weary of the stereotyped, stern-faced, officious, finger-shaking reading room cop, taking us to task for whispering with a shaming "SHHH!" After all, libraries need to be welcoming forums for everybody. Forgive me if I still want my clubby atmosphere of openness and ease to just sit and read my paper in peace.
Peace and quiet used to be the most guarded quality of libraries where a person could trudge in the door away from the noise and effrontery of the world and depend on at least one place for a comfortable chair and a little space to read something. Has the clatter of the world come through that door now?
A few weeks ago when I was ensconced in a favorite armchair in a favorite library of many, many years (I'm afraid to mention how many, many) and no less than five adults came waltzing in as though it were a Barnes and Noble and began having a loud, full-throated discussion of something and anything, one of them even using his cell phone, carrying on three separate calls. It ruined my morning of peace and quiet that I had planned for several days. The library is actually a treat for me. I would have said something but it occurred to me that it might well have been construed as me who was breaking the rules of the new norm. Not my place to say anything, I surrendered and departed in a muffled huff.
I'm old enough to remember people, who were old when I was a kid, who had a devout appreciation for peace and quiet. It was part of a very civilized atmosphere and lifestyle. It has made a lasting and important impression on me. People can endure a great deal and even maintain happiness in all circumstances through the practice of peace and quiet.
There are countless modern courses on the subject and teachings just as numberless on ancient practices of peace and quiet from which the modern ones derive all their wisdom. People are flocking to books and meditation centers to find out what it's all about. We have evolved as humans to know when we are missing something important.
I have started teaching it to my students in every class. I hold a moment of just sitting quietly, usually accompanied by some soothing music, for one to three minutes. The kids love it. They have experienced the effects of calming their nervous system down and how it refreshes them and makes class that much more peaceful and rewarding. They suddenly notice sights and sounds that were waiting there all the time.
I had occasion to visit a couple of other classrooms lately on unrelated business and discovered that several other teachers were doing the same thing! I thought it was just me. (I always do.) It seems we are all feeling the necessity for some space, peace and quiet, and for some reverence in our world.
Colin Harrington, a writer and educator, is an occasional Eagle contributor.