MV P’s & Q’s: Noisy libraries

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Bemused readers ask novelist Nicole Galland for her take on navigating the precarious social landscape that comes with living on the Vineyard. Nicole, who grew up in West Tisbury, is known locally as the co-founder of Shakespeare for the Masses at the Vineyard Playhouse. Her combined knowledge of both this island and the world’s greatest melodramas compels her to help prevent unnecessary tragedy wherever possible. Trying to untangle a messy Island ethics or etiquette question? Send it to

Dear Nicole,
Sometimes I wonder if people on the Island are confused about the difference between a library and a community center. I know that libraries serve a variety of community functions these days, and the days of tiptoeing through the stacks lest one incur the wrath of the steely-haired librarian are a thing of the past, but shouldn’t people know that lengthy cell phone conversations, running children, and screaming babies are not appreciated? What’s a polite way to ask people to shut it off, speak softly, or take it outside?
Confidentially yours,

Dear Shhh:
Here’s the most effective way I’ve ever seen to end an unpleasantly loud cell phone conversation: Sit next to the offender and act as if you’re the person they’re talking to — respond to their comments, make eye contact, give them a comradely nudge, etc. It will completely freak them out. They will get off the phone fast. But then they will (understandably) light into you, and cause more disruption than their original phone call did. So don’t try this at the library/community center. Wait for summer and try it at State Beach.

(I just wanted an excuse to remind everyone of summer, since it is January on Martha’s VIneyard.)

Here’s a more appropriate answer: Even though the nature of libraries has evolved recently, they still contain remarkable beings called librarians. No only have libraries changed, but so have librarians. They are no longer steely-haired stack stalkers. (Out of respect for old-school librarians, I must put a shout-out to Nancy Whiting of the old WT library, who won Most Awesome Librarian of the Galaxy Award back in the 1970s and gets to retain the title for eternity.) The new breed of librarian has evolved into a state of awesomeness. You’re a civilian when it comes to balancing quiet and community at a modern library; these guys are experts. (They are also experts in lots of other things. Have a conversation with one, and ask them what they do. What you see at the checkout desk is barely the tip of the iceberg.)

So it’s really a very simple answer: Talk to the librarians. They are the arbiters of what’s appropriate and what isn’t. If you think a situation needs fixing and they don’t, then you may need to adjust your expectations of libraries in the 21st century.
That’s my take.