Students in silent section deserve quiet study space

Photograph by Leo Bernstein Newman

The silent section of the Aubrey R. Watzek Library occupies the southernmost part of the second and third floor of the library, overlooking the reflecting pool. As the name suggests, that section of the library is intended to be silent, or, at the very least, free of speech. Yet, when I study there, I consistently hear whispers, and even full volume speech. This frustrates me. The silent section should be silent, and there are very few reasons to talk while studying there.

I sit in the silent section because I work best in a silent, still environment where I can focus exclusively on my work. Not everyone works well in this environment, and that is fine. The library offers spaces with a variety of noise levels for that exact reason. However, out of courtesy to those who work best in a silent, emotionless cube, people should not talk in the silent or quiet sections.  

Some people seem to think that it is okay to talk in the silent section, as long as you whisper or keep the conversation short. However, I am of the opinion that the volume of your speech does not matter. Whispering is just as distracting as full volume speech, because it activates my eavesdropping instincts. Though a short conversation may be better than a long one, the vast majority of things people say in the silent section can be mimed (a wave to your friend), sent as a text (dinner plans) or postponed (complimenting your friend’s hat).

I am aware that people sometimes sit in the silent section when they want to study with their friends, but also want to get work done. They reason that if they sit in the silent section, it will force them to be quiet and not talk to their friends, thereby allowing them to stay focused. This may work for some people, but it certainly does not work for everyone. Before you sit with a friend in the silent section, check in with yourself: Are you really going to be silent? Or should you head to a study room or one of the talking study sections of the library? If, mid-silent section study session, you realize that you and your friend are chatting, there is nothing wrong with packing up and moving to a section where talking is allowed.

Maybe people talking in the silent section does not seem like a problem, since I can put headphones in. But, I should not be forced to put in my headphones to block out background noise in the silent section. Beyond that, some people cannot focus while listening to music. When I am reading something especially dense, I do not like to listen to music, because I find it hard to focus completely. Since I am in the silent section, you should not be whispering in the first place.

Now, I do not mean to say that there are no instances where one can talk in the silent section. For instance, if you are bitten by a venomous snake and have only seconds to cry out for the antidote before you lose consciousness, by all means, cry away. Likewise, if you witness a hate crime, or break your leg or see a plane crashing outside the window, that warrants speech. Possibly, you did not know where the silent section is, and you talking was a result of an honest mistake. However, in all other instances, if you see something, do not say something.

There are plenty of spots in the library where talking is not only allowed, but welcomed. If you are a social studier, go there, and leave us grumps in our peaceful silent section. 

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