Monday, April 19, 2010

Silence is no longer a possibility

* A library in East Anglia has been revealed as UK's most popular for the third year running. The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library had more visitors and lent more books than any other in 2008/09. It attracted 1,519,524 visitors and lent 1,124,233 items, including books, DVDs and console games ...

Derrick Murphy, cabinet member for cultural services at Norfolk County Council, said: "This news is not only a great success for the people of Norwich and Norfolk but is also a tribute to the commitment of our library staff in attracting and retaining readers through their innovative programme of activities and promotions that run throughout the year" - from BBC News.

* A life without pauses and empty spaces is a meaningless and chaotic life. More and more, we poor modern concussed beings are subject to a barrage of sensory input. Some of us may welcome this onslaught but I imagine that if you're reading this book, you, like me, have to put in a fair amount of effort to keep the chaos of noise and clutter at bay. Take my library in Norwich.

Actually in some respects, I like the library in Norwich. It's housed in a building called The Forum, which has a handsome glass exterior overlooking a proud fifteenth-century church ... The open-plan interior of the building also creates a pleasurable sense of expansiveness and space. And the library, which is housed on two floors, is large and well stocked.

The trouble is that the library is not at all conducive to reading or studying. It's just too difficult to concentrate. The sounds of mobile phones go unchecked, there are three or four large screens constantly showing movies, and there's a 'Pizza Express' on the floor above the library.

In a sense, the Norwich Forum is a bold initiative in support of the argument for the virtues of pauses and empty spaces, but there's a constant tension between the architect's vision , and the noise and clutter of the interior which denies the character of the building. This is typical of public life at present: there is less quietness, stillness and spaciousness anywhere. Silence is no longer a possibility in public libraries - from Meaning in Life by Sarvananda.
I suspect the question of whether public libraries should be silent is about as divisive as asking whether there should be applause between movements at classical concerts. But I'm not afraid to admit to being on the side of silence in both cases. As an example just visit a public library in that culturally exceptional country France to see people of all ages happily reading and studying without the soundtrack of mobile phones, conversations and movies. I don't know whether public libraries in America and elsewhere are on the side of silence or popularity. So updates in suitably hushed tones from readers are very welcome.

Sarvananda (aka playwright Alastair Jessiman) is ordained in the Western Order of Buddhists. His recently published book Meaning in Life - A Buddhist View, which draws on sources including Woody Allen, Allen Ginsberg, Germaine Greer and Edmund White, is a brilliant exercise in bridging that uniquely Western gap between religion and everyday life. Sarvananda teaches at the FWBO's Padmaloka retreat centre near Norwich which featured in Going Buddhist with Lou Harrison.

I bought Sarvanda's book at the Norwich Buddhist Centre. Be aware that the Friends of the Western Order of Buddhists (FWBO), like the Catholic Church and many other religous groupings, comes with some baggage. David Revill's book John Cage - The Roaring Silence, A Life on which my header image is based featured here. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

1 comment:

The Wound Dresser said...

unfortunately,because of economic necessity,many libraries are after school 'day care' for single working parents,being a relatively safe environment .the noise level is absurd,yet understandable.Im in Brooklyn,so the situation might be better in a smaller area.Quiet libraries in NYC are somewhere near record stores and indy booksellers.Sigh