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Crime Of Excellence – How Standing Up For Good Goes Bad

Updated on August 1, 2011

A couple years ago, I took a firm stand against noise levels in a local university library, and, amazingly, the chief library administrator treated me as a potential threat to the university.

Defending Excellence Causes Defensiveness

My email protests to the Dean of a local university library (whose name I will not reveal) became so persistent that the Dean dispatched campus police officers to my apartment. His justification (so I was told) was to investigate me as a “potential threat”. One day, a loud knock on my apartment door announced the arrival of a campus police captain and his lieutenant, who crouched in readiness on a flight of stairs leading up to my private living quarters.

To this day, I consider the library Dean’s actions as an excessive (perhaps retaliatory), defensive reaction to stern, intelligent criticism. I would go so far as to say that his actions were an abuse of power. At the time, however, I did not pursue such a claim, because I knew that I would be in a David-Versus-Goliath confrontation where I had few resources to match the resources of an established university employee in his position. I simply did what the Dean probably intended for me to do, which was to never set foot in that library again. I had been a faithful devotee for over twenty years, both as a student and as an alumnus.

Dysfunction Functions To Keep The Money Coming In

More outrageous than the inappropriate exercise of administrative power was the blatant endorsement of a compromised learning environment.

The experiences that sparked my barrage of emails contradicted everything that an academic library stands for.

The only thing, therefore, that I truly threatened in this retaliating library Dean was his sense of unquestionable authority. I suppose that, for him, more noise was a small sacrifice to make, in order to retain students as happy, paying customers.

This whole episode serves as a disturbing reminder of the shocking state of affairs in many of today’s libraries (both academic and public). Rather than view my protests as hard evidence of this shocking state of affairs, the power-wielding Dean treated my action of reporting the truth as suspicious behavior, suggesting (ironically) that I might be the problem. Speaking up about people’s excessive speaking was a crime that caused ME to be branded as a potential criminal!

The real crime, of course, was (and is) the widespread complacency with excessive noise in modern libraries. And the real criminals were (and are) the noise makers – rude mobile phone users, loud talkers, crying out-of-control children, even librarians themselves, who have become numb or desensitized to sonic abuse.

The Right To Be Rude

Misguided and misapplied principles of teaching have raised the right to make noise in libraries to the status of a Constitutional amendment. Any suggestion of keeping people quiet, therefore, today takes on the false appearance of a civil rights violation. Library administrators, thus, have no firm basis to direct their staffs in matters of enforcing quiet atmospheres in shared spaces. Library staffs, consequently, have no empowerment to teach people about the positive values of those quiet, shared spaces.

The root cause of the noise problem in today’s libraries is an underlying fear of silence in the West that causes educational leaders to confuse socializing priorities with learning priorities. I discuss this issue at greater length in the hub entitled, Noisy Libraries – Rethinking Quiet And Reclaiming The Sanctity Of Silence.


SURVEY -- Modern Library Noise Levels

Are today's Libraries Too Noisy ?

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