People whisper too much in these libraries.
Your whispering is more frustrating than straight-up talking; The “s”s and “t”s are worse than a buzzing mosquito in my ear. I’d almost prefer the bug: It bites, and then it’s done, itchy, but bearable. But with your chatter, I can never tell what you’re talking about. I only know that it’s annoying as hell. You’re a mosquito that never gets what it wants, save for the designation of Public Nuisance No. 1. It’s perhaps even more annoying that I catch only snippets of words or half-phrases, scrambling the already dense lines of my reading: “essentially, the figure-to-space relationship is no different from the one that had been in use in the fifteenth century where foreground figures are kept completely disconnected from the infinite space behind them.” I hear figures in my foreground, and I am not happy about it.
Is it just me, or are libraries getting louder and louder? Before spring break, I was in Starr Reading Room, which I thought was supposed to be silent. Let me set the scene:
A pair of first-years slide a chair over and have a full-on chat right next to me, their laptops abandoned as they gossip, the glints in their eyes borderline maniacal. It’s midterm season; I feel obliged to give them the side-eye. Please be quiet. I am trying to read for an art history course. Chiaroscuro. Modeling shadow. Impasto. Please, for the love of God, be quiet.
I put in my AirPods. White noise. Relaxing rain sounds. Train horn, two hours, no ads. Still. “So, if I book the Uber today, it’s more expensive, but at least then we’ll know we have one.” “I know, it’s so expensive, but I mean, we have to get to the airport somehow?”
I myself have no idea how I am getting to the airport for spring break. I am now upset for several reasons. I add a line to my already too-long to-do list, then turn to them. I’ve been known to occasionally say “hi, how are you” in a library — I won’t pretend this essay isn’t at least partially hypocritical — but my present situation is simply absurd. I feel like I’m being slightly dramatic, but they are making my life harder in just one too many ways.
“I’m sorry, but even with headphones in, I can hear you. It’s a library – please.”
They look affronted, as if I’ve just committed sacrilege on the grave of their childhood cat. We make eye contact. I’m not messing around, but they seem to think their affronted look will absolve them of any guilt. Not today. If I don’t read about Rembrandt now, it isn’t getting done. I’m in the trenches. I am actively procrastinating the work I don’t want to do by going for the low-hanging fruit instead, tackling the work that truthfully doesn’t matter until finals. Can you tell I’m stressed? Now is not the time nor the place: go outside, in the street; go walk laps around the cemetery and jabber for all I care — ah, the things I would do for peace!
At least once per library visit, I am startled out of my academic stupor by the frenetic twittering of various library-goers, and I must say, the frequency is alarming. Are people simply oblivious to a long-standing social norm, or is that norm now obsolete, and it’s me that hasn’t caught on? Is the expectation that I should turn on “Train sounds, two hours, no ads” to do my reading? Am I too beholden to the aesthetic standard of dark academia, dreaming of a shadowy silence that simply doesn’t exist in real life? If anyone has answers, let’s get a meal sometime. My cortisol suffers, I struggle, and all those involved are worse for the wear.
The girl who brought her chair over returns it to its original home. Ah, finally. I can turn off the train horn. My AirPods are nearly dead as she comes back to retrieve her belongings, leaving an aside: “Just so you know, we should take a shuttle.” Her “quieter” whisper is somehow louder, and I feel a distinct sort of antique rage, a yearning for years where libraries were, presumably, more silent than they are now. The other girl returns to her computer. Finally, it is time for me to spend time with my dear van Rijn. His shadowy self-portrait and peachy ear greet me, and I’m not sure which is a better fate: the narcissism of this odd master of the Dutch Golden Age or that of my neighbors.