When one thinks of a library, the word ‘loud’ does not easily spring to mind.
They are, after all, traditionally quiet places where you may occasionally hear the soft unsheathing of a book from a shelf or the gentle padding of an elderly person seeking a copy of ‘Origami making through the ages’ from amongst the stacks.
You would of course be totally wrong.
Because libraries are no longer the haunt of the soft-spoken people seeking contemplation; instead they are now ‘hubs’, open to an assorted collection of ‘users’ (not my terms) that gravitate to these previously cherished places to, basically, make as much noise as possible.
I found this out recently when visiting my local library (only open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays AND closed for long lunches). Having found a quiet corner and a book I sighed with quiet satisfaction, had turned the first page when the silence exploded.
‘TWELVE LITTLE MONKEYS IN A CHRISTMAS TREE, ONE CAME DOWN AND SAID TO ME...!’
I peered tremulously around a small stack of shelves that separated me from the junior section.
‘WHADYA WANT FOR CHRISTMAS, PUT UNDER OUR TREE...?’
The twelve little monkeys in question were sat disinterestedly alongside or upon the laps of the twelve little monkeys mothers. Toddlers sat or squirmed, apparently desperate to get out of the arms of their parents. A few others had made it as far as under a table and were quietly chewing a rubberised volume of similar chants.
‘I WANT A (INSERT - PENCIL CASE, ROCKING HORSE AND / OR CHOICE OF GIFT)...!’
One toddler, obviously a great deal cannier than her brethren, was by now making a spirited attempt to climb the shelves marked ‘Adventures for tiny tots’ and I wondered how long it would take for her mum to notice.
‘SO THE MONKEY SAID...LEAVE A NOTE FOR SANTA AND THEN WE’LL SEE!!’
I went back to my book and tried to find my place again, thankful that the song appeared to be over.
I was wrong.
‘ELEVEN LITTLE MONKEY IN A CHRISTMAS TREE...!’
I closed my eyes wearily as I realised that there were another ten little monkeys to go after this one. In my mind’s eye I evilly imagined a new version that I could stand up and sing to the disengaged audience.
‘ELEVEN LITTLE MONKEYS IN A CHRISTMAS TREE, THEY ALL EXPLODED AND SET ME FREE! THE END!’
I don’t know about you, but I thought libraries were for reading stuff in and not for sing-songs about primates. Five monkeys later, I had given up trying to read the same passage ten times and tried to take my mind off it by looking at a paper. The worst thing about it was that the toddlers, for whom the get-together had been arranged, were not the slightest bit interested in joining in, leaving only the mums to belt out the lines. Which, incidentally, they did with gusto.
‘THREE LITTLE MONKEYS...!’
I looked around the small number of other readers in the library, an elderly man and a student and wondered if they too were in any way affected, but alas no. Both were studiously buried in reading, the younger guy on a laptop and the gent nose deep in the ‘Times’.
An interminable time later, the last little monkey had finally said its lines, followed by a huge cheer (again from the mums) and I made a tentative grab for my book.
‘I know,’ said one of the event organisers, ‘what about ten little apples, bobbing out at sea?’
Dear God, please no, I thought - not apples too... But it was too late; the song began...
‘TEN LITTLE APPLES, BOBBING OUT AT SEA...!’
And so on...
Afterwards we had renditions of ‘SEVEN LITTLE PIGLETS’, ‘FIVE LITTLE ELEPHANTS’ and a finale of ‘TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY LITTLE HEDGEHOGS’; well I probably exaggerate here but it certainly was in the double digits - at least.
But here is my point; if you wish to indulge your taste in music and inspire young imaginations by means of songs about hedgehogs, monkeys or any other mammal, why do it in a library? Why not a village hall or a park or at someone’s house or in fact anywhere except a place designed for people to sit and quietly read a book? And what does this tell our youngsters about the role of libraries?
I say this because I recently visited a university at which my wife in enrolled and met her in the library, but it might very well have been a bus station or shopping mall. The noise was quite astounding: from mobile ‘phones ringing to excited conversation and people playing games on computers as well as droves of youngsters keen to extol the virtues of their latest Galaxy smart-phone purchase. Quite honestly, if I had chosen to stand up and start reciting ‘TWELVE LITTLE MONKEYS IN A CHRISTMAS TREE...’ I don’t think anyone would have even looked up.
And that is quite sad, because there are few places to escape everything that assails us in the modern world.
Libraries, it seems, are now no longer places to quietly read a book.