without constant chatter
Every time I visit the British Library as a reader I am amazed at how noisy the place is for a supposedly ‘silent’ environment. The problem is partly the acoustics of the room [Humanities 1 – the ‘main’ reading room at the new British Library] being no doubt fashioned after the old location, i.e. a large cavernous space, in which every sniff, cough and shift in chair seems to echo around. And partly the allowed behaviour [of staff and readers]. Staff talk way too loudly when dealing with requests [security staff even carrying on personal conversations] and readers increasingly seem to flout the no talking rule.
Worse still the constant tappy tappy of now old tech laptop keyboards [as opposed to smart screen keyboards]. Worse again still, the wonky squealing wheels of the geriatric tea lady trolleys for transporting books too heavy to carry by hand.
But then perhaps if the room was completely silent [especially as the modern ear seems detuned to quietude] it would become rather unsettling?
The first regulations requiring silent reading were for scribes in the ninth century monastic scriptorium. Until then they had worked either by dictation or by reading to themselves out loud the text they were copying.
Arguably the benefit of silent reading is being able to establish an unrestricted relationship with the book and the words. As the words no longer need to occupy the time required to pronounce them they can exist in interior space; they become the reader’s own possession, the reader’s intimate knowledge.
And as a friend said to me recently, “knowledge is more easily acquired without constant chatter.”