“I’m in the public library. Let me call you back.”

When did it become mandatory to answer your phone? No matter where you are? Phones have ringers that can be turned off. Buttons you can hit to send a call right to voice mail. If you aren’t even going to let the other person speak, why answer at all? Are you trying to show off that you’re at the library?

I’ve ignored my phone three mornings a week every week all summer. That’s how often I’ve been to the local library. This is where my daughter meets her reading tutor. In a private room. With a door shut. So they can talk. Although, they are about the only people in this place who don’t want to disturb others. Seriously.

There have been young women who barely look old enough to pay their own rent, sitting huddled together making plans for their classrooms while slurping the last of their Starbucks.

I’ve had to listen to people having conversations as if they’d met on the street. “oh, my son the accomplished doctor just had a baby and let me tell you at seven weeks old, that baby talks in complete sentences!” (I’m not making this up. A woman made that claim the other day.)

By far the worst is Wednesday morning. That’s pre-schooler story time. The door to the special reading room is always left open. And the squeals and screams pour out. When the librarian finishes reading, the kids start running and screaming.

Every day of the week, crying children are not taken outside; they are left to scream while Mom keeps searching for a book. Last week, I watched a mother “discipline” her little boy who couldn’t sit for the story by bringing him out into the main part of the library where she informed him he would not be allowed to do a puzzle. This, you can imagine, resulted in a meltdown like only a three year old can have. Loud. Begging. Pleading for a puzzle. All the while his mom just sat there. In the middle of the library. Next to people who wanted to read. In peace and quiet. She never told him to stop screaming about the puzzle. Just repeated that he wouldn’t get to do one. (So, why’d they even stay, anyway?)

I’ve seen moms let their children run and jump on chairs while they stood chatting. I’ve seen moms push screaming babies around in strollers. I’ve seen a young toddler left in the care of a barely older sibling while mom browses the shelves. This isn’t a playground. This isn’t your living room. This is a library. Yet the one thing I haven’t seen is a librarian asking someone to shush or to take it outside. (One actually suggested that my 8 year old daughter should have told another child to be quiet. Really?)

Often, the librarians are among the loudest offenders around here. I’ve spent the last half hour listening to one drone on about everything under the sun… she went searching for a book and hollered across the room to a patron that she couldn’t find it… she rattles off phone numbers loud enough for me to jot them down if I’m so inclined (I could prank call people “this is Betty from the library and the book you requested is in.”)… she points vaguely toward the stacks and explains how books are organized… right now I’m listening to a patron confirm that she properly put a book on hold last night. Hurrah for her. Next in line… the offender who has two overdue books out right now! I now know that Lucy is 5 years old and starting school; she needs a library card. I suppose if you work here all day, you don’t want to whisper all the time. But I also suppose that if you want to read here, and you want it to be even sort of quiet, you’re out of luck. I have gotten more reading done this summer at the pool than in the library.

Oh, excuse me. My phone is ringing. I need to get this.

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