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How to Avoid Being Bothered While Working in a Library

There are instances wherein an individual seeks to flee from convivial communication, instead craving that variety of isolation fruitful for concentration and introspection. At such times a person may find themselves repairing to a library to focus on their work amongst well-stocked shelves and a policy that keeps the volume low. But alas, many an individual has hunkered down in the library only to realize that it does not provide quite the monastic environment that they had desired. For a reader, researcher, or person simply hoping for some privacy, may find themselves disrupted by people who know them (or do not, as the case may be) and though the intention of these interlopers may not come from a place of malice their interruptions are still unwanted. Had the person not specifically come to the library so as to work undisturbed and benefit from an environment that discourages conversation? If only library tables came equipped with the equivalent of the “do not disturb” doorknob hangers one finds at a hotel!

What follows are recommendations for those who would prefer to work in a library without being bothered. Those who are most fanatically devoted to remaining undisturbed while working may wish to combine multiple strategies from the following list – but it should be noted that not all of the possible combinations have been verified as practical. Or, to put it more clearly: while this guide is based upon hours of careful fieldwork and meticulous observation the reader should attempt these strategies at their own risk

1. The simplest strategy is to ignore those trying to interrupt and or interact with you. This sends a clear message that states: “I do not want to be disturbed.” In pursuing this path there are numerous tools that can make it easier to enact the performance of ignoring the other: a book or a computer can allow an individual to act as though they are so engrossed as to be unable to tear their attention away for even a moment. Granted, it may be that the most useful took for ignoring others is by clamping a pair of large headphones onto one’s head – they do not even need to be plugged into anything, the mere presence of the headphones creates a bubble around a person which allows them to ignore the sounds from the outside world, which they cannot hear anyways. And yet, it is worth being aware that this tactic can quickly result in an escalation that only makes the situation worse. The first party’s act of ignoring the second party may in fact lead the second party to conclude that they were not heard or seen and thus the second party may choose to repeat their initial greeting at a louder volume – or the second party may even reach out to physically touch the first party! In these cases it is substantially harder to still just ignore the second party without coming across as rude or as a mannequin. And should the first party continue to ignore the second party then the situation can escalate even further – indeed, this is a simple strategy but it is one that has a high failure rate. If at first it does not succeed, than chances are it will not succeed.

2. The question may be raised: if one so clearly craves isolation, why go to a place like a library where there are bound to be other people? Why not stay at home, or if one really (really) wants to be alone – why not go sit in a cave? These are not unfair questions, but let us assume that a person has gone to the library because they wish to make use of its resources, and/or because they want a modicum of isolation without having to seek the full on hermetic life. Thus the library is a proper place to go to. As for seeking the idyllic isolation of nature? Let us be honest: caves are often damp and sometimes they contain bears (which can be dangerous). Nevertheless, this question leads to the next important suggestion: seek an isolated spot in the library. Libraries come in many different sizes and arrangements, and while this may be harder to do in a small library, many are the libraries that are large enough so as to have some choice seldom visited spots. Is there a table set aside for readers in an obscure corner on the tenth floor? If so, seek it out! Is there a private study area that one can reserve? Reserve it! Is there a sub-basement that most people avoid because it is almost certainly haunted? Work there! By placing yourself in a spot where you are unlikely to encounter others randomly passing by, you are greatly improving your ability to work without unwanted interruptions!

3. Numerous works of popular entertainment have encouraged individuals to think that an ideal way of not being seen – so as not to be bothered – is to wear some manner of ingenious disguise. Here are some of the disguises and costumes that a person may be tempted to try out:

  • a pirate,
  • an astronaut,
  • a character from a popular movie,
  • a celebrity,
  • a knight,
  • a zombie,
  • a presidential candidate,

But wait! The above list of disguises (which is certainly not exhaustive) are more likely to attract attention than to deflect it! People will say: “hey, look at that pirate/astronaut/character from a popular movie/knigt/zombie/celebrity/presidential candidate sitting in the library!” And then they will want to come speak to you, or perhaps take pictures of you. No, the art of disguising yourself so as to preserve your privacy relies upon situational awareness! You must pick a disguise that fits your location! And what is your location? In a library, of course. So consider the following disguises that will help you blend in seamlessly (perhaps too seamlessly):

  • a bookshelf (note: may result in people trying to take books out of you),
  • a book cart (note: may result in people placing books on you),
  • a computer with a “computer out of service” sign attached to it,
  • the library’s ghost (note: this may anger the library’s actual ghost),
  • a photocopier with a “copies are $50 per page” sign,
  • a student panicking because they put off doing research until the day before their term paper is due,
  • the concept of silence (tricky, but possible, to execute well).

4. While the decision to work in a library is usually a signal that one has rejected the hermetic impulse, there are cases of individuals who come to the library in order to enact their hermetic impulses. In such cases it is common for these individuals to attempt to build some form of personal dwelling within the library – a fort composed of shelves, a bunker built out of books, a cave constructed with chairs and tables. Generally, the very sight of such a bizarre and imposing structure in some abandoned corner of a library will lead other people to turn and walk away swiftly as they may believe that they have stumbled upon the fabled hovel of the library’s goblins or the cave in which the library’s troll dwells. Within the safety of this enclosure one may enjoy a great deal of privacy; however, the actual work of constructing this shelter may result in numerous varieties of the question: “what are you doing?” It should also be noted that constructing such a domicile in a library – temporary though it may be – is more than likely to draw the ire of the library’s staff. Furthermore one should be warned that most libraries keep a team of adventurers on retainer who are periodically called in to remove goblins and trolls from the library.

5. If ignoring interlopers fails, if one can not find an isolated corner, if disguises take too much work, or one lacks skills in constructing a makeshift dwelling – one can always decide to hide. Libraries feature numerous ideal hiding places, which is why many libraries have clear “no playing hide and seek” signs. But do those signs say anything about hiding not as a game, but as a way of ensuring that one is not disturbed? They do not! Hiding is a cousin to seeking an isolated area, but it is the tactic that one uses when there is no isolated spot to be used. This requires greater attention and a willingness to quickly scurry from one hiding place to another, but it can be highly effective. Some ideal hiding places include (note – if discovered you may be permanently banned from the library):

  • under the table,*
  • inside the trash can,*
  • on a bookshelf,*
  • in the book return bin,*
  • on top of a bookshelf,*
  • behind the door labeled “employees only”,*
  • within the depths of the library troll’s lair,*
  • in a different building.*

By stealthily moving from one hiding place to the next you can ensure that you always stay one step ahead of those who would disturb you – provided that you are paying suitable attention to ensure that you are always staying one step ahead of those who would disturb you. If this is the tactic you wish to employ you will need to keep your wits about you and your things prepared for movement at a moment’s notice. Remember: never reuse the same hiding place twice!

Note 1: hiding places tagged with an “*” are not actually recommended and should not be attempted.

Note 2: occasionally a scientist with nefarious intent will attempt to set up a secret laboratory in some unused corner of a library. There they may attempt unsettling feats that unleash a repressed and vicious facet of their personality. These instances of trying to “Hyde” in the library should not be mistaken with attempts to hide in the library.

6. If you are confident that people will come approach you while you are working no matter how brilliantly you are disguised or how craftily you are hidden than you may wish to consider diverting the attention of those who seek you. Find a mannequin and dress it up as yourself and then place in a visible area of the library – set it up as though it is reading a book. With any luck those seeking you will spot the mannequin and go bother it instead of you. Granted, some (but not all) people will recognize that they are not speaking to you as the mannequin is unlikely to respond to the questions being directed to it. Therefore you may want to rig up an elaborate automated system that prompts the mannequin to provide a series of simple responses when it is asked questions thereby convincing the other conversant that this is indeed you with whom they are speaking and not a mannequin that you have placed there to confuse them. While this can be a highly effective strategy one should not overuse it lest one’s friends and acquaintances come to prefer the mannequin to the real you. One should also be careful about going too far in attempting to give the mannequin the tools with which to communicate – should the mannequin become self-aware than one has created a problem far more significant than simply trying to find some privacy.

7. And yet, if one really has come to the library hoping to work quietly and without interruption than the best tactic may be to make this desire known. When disturbed one can politely say: “Excuse me, but I came here to work by myself and enjoy the quiet. Can I speak with you later?” This will almost certainly be more effective, if less fun, than any of the other suggestions given here.

More Important Advice

How to Avoid Ruining a Book

How to Sleep in a Library

How to Organize Your Library

How to Read a Large Book on Crowded Public Transit


About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

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This entry was posted on October 15, 2015 by in Books, Humor, Librarianship, Libraries and tagged , , , , .

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