SIR, — I am writing in response to the letter from Norman Hart (Herts Advertiser, April 24) concerning noise in the Maltings Library, St Albans. In responding to the changing needs and culture of the community we serve, we are aware that sometimes the lib
SIR, - I am writing in response to the letter from Norman Hart (Herts Advertiser, April 24) concerning noise in the Maltings Library, St Albans. In responding to the changing needs and culture of the community we serve, we are aware that sometimes the library is noisy and this may not suit everyone. Ultimately however, the library is there to serve the community as a whole, which includes an increasingly diverse range of interests and needs, so part of our job is to try to strike a healthy balance between them.
On Tuesday mornings we have two lively and increasingly-popular Baby Rhyme Time sessions, followed by Storytime on Tuesday afternoons. These are provided to encourage children to establish the reading habit from an early age - and admittedly their enthusiasm can make these sessions rather noisy. Apart from these times, during the rest of our 65 hours of opening each week the children's area is for reading and toys are not provided. We are aware that some of our users prefer not to visit during these activities so our suggestion that Mr Hart avoid these times was meant to be helpful rather than "impertinent".
While improving the literacy skills of school leavers is a national issue, we would not be helping matters by making teenagers unwelcome - indeed we find it encouraging that they want to come and use the library. Again, these groups may not always be quiet but instead of dismissing them as "senseless youngsters who clearly have no manners", we work with their schools to help modify their behaviour and encourage them to make best use of the library.
Of course we are sensitive to the needs of traditional library users too but managing an open-plan building where sound travels presents a challenge. We have tried to create quieter study spaces in the reference area and we removed a "book-train" from the children's area as it encouraged children to climb and make noise. In our last refurbishment we considered installing sound barriers around the children's area but were advised this would have little impact and would not justify the expenditure.
Our staff do monitor the situation and if users are making an unacceptable level of noise or giving cause for concern, they will intervene. Actual anti-social behaviour is not tolerated. Those responsible are asked to leave and the police called if necessary.
I am sorry that Mr Hart appears to be out of touch with the modern remit for public libraries. Libraries are a source of books, reading and learning; they provide access to digital skills and services and support community identity and citizenship for everyone, including people who are at a disadvantage in society. I appreciate he does not agree with our approach to this issue but that does not mean it is wrong.
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Times change. Libraries are no longer places where "silence" notices abound, where parents are frightened to take their children for fear they disturb others and teenagers never venture for fear of being labelled in some derogatory way.
Far from living in "a world of make believe", librarians in Herts ensure that the service delivers what the public want. It is a measure of the success of St Albans Library that it remains the busiest library in Herts and that both visitor figures and loans have again increased in the last year. Let's celebrate the fact that we have a busy, vibrant, community library and work together to try to accommodate everyone's needs.
Director of Children, Schools and Families, Herts County Council.