It’s an ordinary Sunday afternoon at the Fayetteville Public Library, and a crowd is milling around the lobby. The LED clock above the Welcome Desk reads 12:58 p.m. Everyone talks in hushed tones, the only audacious sounds are coming from the Arsaga’s Café in the lobby. Finally, a pre-recorded voice emanates from the intercom. “Good afternoon! The time is one o’clock and the library is now open. Welcome to the Fayetteville Public Library.” A Circulation staff member pulls back the metal screen with one hand and holds a walk-talkie in the other. The crowd floods through the opening, and suddenly, there’s noise everywhere.
The library’s conveyor belt system and air-conditioning units rumble in the background, and the six checkout stations soon begin their high-pitched beeping while printing due-date receipts. In the bathrooms, energy-efficient hand dryers almost deafen users, but hey, they’re more economical than paper towels. Conversation drifts in from Arsaga’s, and even the librarians could be accused of using their “outside voices” when chatting with patrons and co-workers.
“You can’t distinguish just one thing,” Ryan Kelly, a local student and Fayetteville Public Library patron, comments, “but it doesn’t matter where you go — even up in the study rooms — there’s this constant, dull roar.”
The Fayetteville Public Library (FPL) opened on June 16, 1916 in the basement of the Washington County Courthouse. A few days before, the local newspaper, the Daily Fayetteville Democrat, published an article about the new library. The Fayetteville Public Library would be open from 2-5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, since the head librarian Julia Vaulx had volunteered for the unpaid position and had other duties as a librarian for the UofA. Patrons were only allowed to check out two books at a time, one of which may be fiction and overdue fees were a whopping two cents a day. However, its most stringent policy was on silence. “Quiet — There must not be any conversation in the library. All communication with librarian in charge must be conducted in a subdued tone,” the Fayetteville Democrat reported.
Almost laughing, Willow Fitzgibbon, Manager of Adult Services, shook her head when she learned of the library’s archaic rule. “That’s amazing! It’s kind of different now. We’re actually trying to encourage conversation.”
A good example of the “okay-to-talk policy,” is the Otwell Teen Gaming Center. Last year, FPL began providing video gaming systems — a Nintendo Wii, an X-Box 360, and 14 accompanying games — for its growing teen audience. The equipment is intended to encourage socialization through gaming, and when being used at its full potential anything but “subdued.”
Sound coming up from the Grand Staircase has also challenged the traditional silent library. MS&R Architecture designed Blair Library (FPL’s official building title) as an environmentally friendly structure. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council awarded FPL “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Certification” in 2006 for all its self-sustainability measures. The large windows, high ceilings, and open spaces often transport the energy and excitement of events on the first floor into areas of the main library upstairs.
With its casual cacophony, the Fayetteville Public Library has earned a name for itself in library-world. In 2005, Library Journal awarded FPL the coveted Library of the Year Award, and last year, named FPL’s Director of Information Technology, Lynn Yandell, one of 2012’s Movers and Shakers. Moreover, annual rises in patron activity have spawned suggestions about expansion, ranging from branching out to a new location to constructing a large scale auditorium. Whichever direction FPL decides to take, it’s sure to keep the community talking.
However, by five o’clock on Sunday afternoon, the Fayetteville Public Library has rumbled to a close. The checkout stations beep no more and the conversations lull — but never fear. They’ll all start up again tomorrow, because FPL wasn’t built for deafening silence or pointy-nosed librarians who glare down their glasses. No, the Fayetteville Public Library was built to make noise. www.faylib.org