[phone]An elderly man loudly slurps his coffee, a middle-aged woman hastily unzips her neon fanny pack and a blonde-haired girl finally answers her cell phone, momentarily preventing her from smacking her bubble gum like the cashier at a 7-11. Students talk, elevators ding and the fluorescent overhead lights and exit signs crave attention as they buzz relentlessly. Crowd noises at L.A. Clippers basketball games don’t reach these heights – and that’s the problem. These people could be anywhere: an office building, a bowling alley or a restaurant with a bunch of crazy sideways messages scrawled on the wall. But they’re not. With a backdrop of dusty bookshelves, these people are at the MSU Main Library, a setting one would think to be unworthy of this noise and seemingly boundless energy.
[tea] So why is there so much commotion, and why is that woman wearing a fanny pack? This isn’t 1988, and this isn’t a Six-Flags theme park – I know this because I haven’t stepped in any vomit. Common knowledge says the library is a place of business where you can study until 6 a.m. because you just plain forgot to look at your syllabi in the past three weeks, and – whoops – you have two exams tomorrow. Apparently someone threw this sentiment out the window, and students’ opportunities to study in peace went along with it. Amy James, a zoology, ecology and evolutionary biology senior, said her weekly trips to the library are sometimes social occasions, but she always makes sure to be respectful to those studying around her. “I think some people, especially girls, go to the library to just socialize,” James said. “I don\’t know if they get their work done, or even if that\’s their goal in the first place, but I know I get mine done even if they are there.”
For every respectful library-goer like James, there is another library-goer with a knack for neglecting to use an “indoor voice” and yakking on a cell phone on the second floor or forgetting to turn off the two-way page sound on their brick of a Motorola phone. In an age where the advent of technology is rapidly changing our everyday lives, these kinds of technological interruptions will come to be expected.
[cafe]With computers in every residence, cell phones playing Justin Timberlake ring tones in every sorority girl’s tote bag and Bluetooth’s Blackberries attached to everyone’s palm, it’s no surprise the functions for libraries – on college campuses and elsewhere – are changing. The days, and all-nighters, of silence are so 2001. Instead, the cappuccino machine in the CyberCafe cranks out lattes every 13 seconds, making noises so intolerable even Gilbert Godfrey would be offended.
“Libraries aren’t your mother or grandmother’s libraries anymore: they don’t come with a sense of hush-hush where nobody can talk and there is complete quiet,” said Sylvia Marabate, director of the East Lansing Public Library.
Meanwhile, a short distance from Marabate’s office, computers designated for computer research aren’t being used properly, unless the three giggling high schoolers are furiously typing MySpace messages to Dewey Decimal. “It is hard to keep up with the demand of the public to use the Internet,” Marabate said. “We’ve had a slow but steady increase in the percentage of people who come here to use the Internet. We aren’t just a library for the public anymore: we’re more like a community center now.”
During peak hours, the MSU library is no different. Students cram into computer cubicles and rarely do the sounds on the first floor fall below a dull roar. With groups of studiers and the monotonous Sparty’s worker asking for orders with the redundancy of that annoying Office Space secretary, calling a modern library a community center would be like calling a Michigan student attractive – more like a train wreck.
[girl]“There’s always obnoxious people there with more leisure time and less homework because they have easier classes doing group assignments or talking so loudly that I can never stay there and get work done,” civil engineering senior Evis Kinolli said. “Engineering students rarely go to the main library, I can guarantee you that, because they can print for free at the computer labs, and study in a quiet smaller library with more upperclassmen, as opposed to the main library where underclassmen are more likely to socialize and be disrespectful.”
But as long as there are books around, and people willing to read them, the campus and public libraries won’t turn into community centers exclusively used for social gatherings or free Internet usage. “Public libraries, including the East Lansing Public Library, definitely still purchase new books,” Marabate said. “There is still a public that loves to read -visit an airport and you will see the amazing number of people with a book in their hand.”
[engineer] Marabate said the future outlook for books in the tangible form is good. “Even the most ‘bleeding edge’ technologists are still predicting that books as we know them will be around for quite some time to come,” she said.
Just as books are believed to be around forever, so are computers, cell phones and coffee machines, which is why smaller studying retreats like the Engineering Building, which offers free printing and essential computer programs to their hosted majors, and smaller libraries may be the best kept secrets on campus. Residence hall study lounges also have many added advantages, including their proximity to dorm rooms, spaciousness and relative quiet: unless you’re studying in the Bro-jects at midnight on a Friday, in which case the lounge is probably being used for a Nerf wars competition.
“I always utilized the study rooms in the dorms because it was so convenient because it was in the building,” kinesiology sophomore Allison Serr said.
But even students who live on campus come up with more creative means to escape the dorm study lounges and the main library altogether.
[table]“I never go to the main library because it is way too crowded,” international relations sophomore Lauren Tomaszyck said. “There’s a much quieter, less dusty, less crowded library right across from my dorm, and I’d tell you where it is, but I don’t want the entire freshman class knowing about it because then they’ll ruin it.”
While Tomaszcyk beats the dust and the crowds, and Kinolli avoids underclassmen, these students do miss out on the amenities the main library has to offer: the pre-packaged schwarmas, the supposedly quiet upper floors and the hoards of people wearing North Face fleeces. Libraries are changing, and the changes will affect all of us – but is it too much to ask to get rid of the coffee machine and fashion shows and manufacture some quiet time instead? Students who still care about their grades would appreciate it a latte.

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