Noise issues plague Whatcom’s library

cranky.librarianby Ryan Tipper


Deep within the brick and stone bowels of the Heiner Center rests Whatcom Community College’s library. Like most, this library exists as a place to come to read, study, work and learn. Unlike most, it stands out for one main reason: noise. Both students and staff have said the library is a disruptive place at times.

“The busiest time of the day is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” said Jon McConnel, a staff member at the library’s Information Reference desk. “As long as everyone maintains an even base line, the noise is never really an issue. When someone is being loud enough to stick out, that’s when a noise issue occurs.”

Libraries are usually designed to keep volumes low and to control voices from reverberating all around. However, Whatcom’s library not only struggles to reduce noise, but helps it travel.

“The window wells are the worst location,” McConnel said. “People’s voices from the second story travel straight down into them.”

While many signs remind patrons to keep their voices low, the staff say they tire of having to constantly police students, and even their own staff. “No librarian enjoys having to be a cop,” said Linda Lambert, the Library Director. “I have been here since 2000, and the noise has always been a problem.”

“We have set up rooms and quiet zones designed to help the situation, but it only does so much,” Lambert said. “We are constantly coming up with new ideas but it really comes down to budgets; we just don’t have it.”

The library isn’t the only place that is starting to have quiet study rooms available. Other buildings on campus are establishing them too.

“In the library, there is obvious tension between collaborating space and quiet space,” Lambert said.

In 2012, to get a clear view from students about the noise, a survey of Whatcom students was taken as to what they believed was causing the noise issues and what could be done to help suppress it.

While the responses varied, some of the most frequent answers the data revealed about what was missing were more available seating and study rooms, a request the school has tried to deal with directly by setting up “quiet rooms.”

Another noticeable trend from the data is the amount of people that answered that the library is too loud due to talking and cell phone use.

One idea to correct these trends that is gaining some steam is “a proposal for a new learning commons,” Lambert said. Although it’s still in the works, no doubt it will be something to help Whatcom’s current situation.

Only time will tell if the noise issue has the funding and resources available to finally correct it. With more and more attention being aimed at it, staff members like McConnel and Lambert are aware of the issue and know it must be addressed.

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