The front page of the tab section featured our iconic statue, "Silence," regarding the main library building as it looks today, with an image of the original 1888 Main Street structure at the upper left and the 1951 Mulberry Street structure at the upper right.
In September of 2013, which was our "quasquicentennial year" (our 125th anniversary), we published a special tab supplement to the Mount Vernon News to celebrate 125 years of service to the community and explore some of the highlights of our history. On this page you'll find articles and pictures from that tab section, plus some material we had generated for it but didn't have room for in the finished product. We'll be adding content to this page from time to time, so check back often for the latest pictures and articles.
She stands serenely on her pedestal, gazing through the window of the newspaper reading room toward the patron lobby. Her skin is as white as alabaster (though, in fact, it is Italian marble) and she has one finger poised in front of her lips in a universally recognized gesture.
“She’s shushing us!” observes one young visitor to the library. “She’s not having much of an effect,” adds another.
The statue’s name is “Silence,” and it was donated to the Mount Vernon Public Library in 1909 by Mrs. Theron Butler, formerly of Mount Vernon, but then of New York. The piece was sculpted by Joseph Mozier, also a former resident of Mount Vernon, in 1869. Both of the local dignitaries who delivered speeches at the acceptance ceremony, Frank L. Fairchild and Harry C. Devin, mentioned the appropriateness of the statue’s subject, observing that “silence (is) fundamental to the successful work of a public library.”
In 1909, silence was indeed the accepted norm for a public library. It hasn’t been that way for some decades now. The ambient noise level in most public libraries began rising some time after the 1950s, much to the consternation of traditional librarians and their traditional patrons. The increase pretty much kept up with the increasing noise level in society at large, and it was propelled by several factors. More and more people were using libraries, and most of them were in more of a hurry than in earlier decades. They bustled more. New and different types of library materials were making their way into libraries, and they included sound recordings that made a noise of their own, even when listened to with private head phones. Sometimes patrons would sing along with the music, not realizing (because of the headphones) that everyone else could hear them.
With the increases in patron traffic and new kinds of materials came a need for new and different types of library services. To the traditional reference service (which involved asking and answering questions--out loud), there were added storytimes, craft sessions, puppet performances and other programs for children, and for adults there were informational programs, lectures, book discussions, performances and film programs. All of these added to the noise, as did the generally rising level of excitement (have you ever seen an enthusiastic kid after a really good storytelling?) and the conversations it spurred.
These developments have raised eyebrows among some disapproving folks, but not by any means everyone. The issue began to provoke real controversy in the early 1970s (when your humble library director was a humble grad student at the Case Western Reserve University School of Library & Information Science). The Wilson Library Bulletin, a highly respected journal for library professionals, published an issue with a tear-out sign bound into it that read, “NO SILENCE.” The accompanying article explained that noise in the library was a good thing, signaling healthy activity and intellectual ferment, and the author suggested that the handy tear-out sign be posted prominently in the reader’s library, so that everyone would know it was okay to make noise in the library.
Well, all heck broke loose. Angry letters to the editor of the Wilson Library Bulletin were fired off. Rebuttals were printed in several library publications, and counter-rebuttals and angry letters rebutting the other angry letters were also fired off. If all of this controversy had been carried on in a single room, by word of mouth, it would have made a terrible racket (and gotten them all kicked out of the library, most likely). It took nearly a year for things to settle down, but ever since then the conflict has continued--mostly in a low key--between the library noise makers and the library noise shushers.
So, what’s the situation here in Mount Vernon? Well, we’re part of the modern world, and our ambient noise levels show it. People of all ages come and go in an endless stream, taking advantage of everything the library has to offer--books, magazines, audiotapes, CDs, videos, computers--and most of them speak to the library staff and each other in a normal voice. Their movements and the materials and furnishings they use make a “normal” amount of noise. Sometimes somebody gets a little louder than normal. Sometimes there’s a group activity that generates even more noise (for example, our annual “In the Know Challenge,” when we have a quiz show right in the main patron lobby). And nearly everyone takes this extra noise in stride and tolerates it.
Our hope is that most people will try not to make too much noise in the library but will also understand when routine activities do generate some extra sound waves. (Yes, we actually still do occasionally shush someone who’s gotten really too loud, but it doesn’t happen often.) As for our stony guardian, Miss Silence: she stands there still with her finger raised to her lips, but she hasn’t said a word.
WHO ARE WE, REALLY?
The Aquarian Librarian is prepared, produced and presented by the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, Mount Vernon, OH 43050. Visit the Library's main website at www.knox.net.