Shhh…! Silence in the RSA Library – what do you think?

August 19, 2013 by
Filed under: Fellowship 

This is a blog by Samantha Fletcher, Martina Booth and Anna Clayton (RSA Fellowship staff).

The role of the library has evolved significantly. Once used exclusively for quiet reading and self-study, it is now a community space where people go for computer courses, children’s story times and even a cup of tea. A spokesperson for Blackheath Library in Greenwich comments:

‘”Libraries are places for everyone to use and enjoy. They’re our community centres, information hubs, spaces to learn or think and make ourselves feel better. We want to ensure libraries are developed in a way that means they stay at the heart of the community.”

As libraries evolve from silent self-study areas to community hubs, should we still be expected to be quiet whilst using them? Opinions differ! For instance, one of us was recently taken to task by a user of the RSA Library for being too noisy while dealing with a query from a Fellow. This made us reflect on our policy – or lack thereof – on users maintaining silence whilst working within it.


The RSA Library is a resource at our House for both RSA Fellows and staff, stocking books and DVDs relevant to the work and interests of the organisation and its Fellows. It provides a working space and reading room, WiFi and a Freepost service for those Fellows unable to visit in person.  It’s open whenever the House is open.

We’ve never enforced silence in the library, because we firmly believe that the House is one of the best places to have an idea, and Fellows turning their ideas into action can help solve some of today’s social problems. Collaboration between our 27,000 Fellows is vital to this process, and to make the RSA Fellows’ Library a place where interaction is suffocated feels wrong and against the RSA’s basic principles.

Commanding total silence in the RSA Library also poses a challenge as to how we communicate with Fellows who have queries and issues. In addition the library is only staffed part-time, so a ‘total silence’ policy could never be effectively policed.

As libraries evolve from silent self-study areas to community hubs, should we still be expected to be quiet whilst using them? Opinions differ!

All that said, we appreciate that Fellows do not want to be unnecessarily disrupted whilst using the library and we hope that our Fellows are considerate and respectful of other Fellows using the shared space. So now it’s over to you: in future should we manage the library’s volume by putting a ‘no talking’ notice up? Or can we continue to promote quiet working but not insist on silence?

To have your say, please comment below, or alternatively email At the end of September the RSA Library steering group will review all feedback and discuss the issue.


  • Ed Weech

    A few observations:
    1. It is standard practice in traditional libraries to enforce a policy of silent or quiet individual study, which is not the same as a monastic atmosphere of total silence. Separate areas for group study may be indicated. One would expect staff working on a library desk to try and be as quiet
    as possible to try and minimise disruption to users. Some noise
    is inevitable in running a working library with an enquiry service and users generally accept this, within reason.

    2. Professional acquaintances of mine have given me lots of anecdotal evidence of libraries where a move away from quiet or silent study has promopted a backlash from users against this.

    3. The delivery of public library services in the current climate is a highly politicised issue, and the “development” of libraries as community centres or hubs is more equivocal than the quote above might suggest. In particular, its applicability with regards to the libraries of learned societies is arguable.

    Ed Weech, Librarian and FRSA

  • John Kelleher

    I think that you are quite right to highlight that the library is a space in which collaboration should be encouraged. In the same way that classrooms are now vibrant places where silence is rare, we should acknowledge that libraries can be a great place to learn in the same way.

    That said, the RSA has a lot of space where noisy collaboration can take place. Perhaps there should be allocated quiet spaces and maybe the reading room could be one of them?

    I’m certainly not convinced that we need silence when selecting a book from the collection.

    John Kelleher FRSA and secondary school teacher

  • Matthew Cain

    I cannot work in silence. I suspect its a generational thing. As an undergraduate I favoured the noisy open-plan LSE library to King’s College’s more old-fashioned interpretation.

    However, I would be grateful for clarity on what the glass room is for. Is it conversations and phone calls or is it the silent space? IF that was clearly understood then it might deal with differing interpretations of the remaining library space.

  • Anna Clayton (RSA Library Assi

    Thank you for all your feedback on noise in the library. The
    Library Steering group has reviewed and discussed all your responses. We understand there are differing views around how the space should be used and we have tried to accommodate these as much as possible.

    We agree that there are already a number of collaborative areas in the House where Fellows can meet, chat and make calls. For this reason, the library will continue to be a quiet (not silent) working area where staff members are able to help Fellows with enquiries, but where talking is kept to a minimum. The glass reading room will be a space where Fellows can read and work in silence.

    For greater clarity, we will display signs stating what behaviour is expected of Fellows in the library. We hope this helps Fellows to continue to enjoy the library space and its resources and, once again, thank you for your feedback on this matter.

  • jones

    what about a separate place for group discussion or debate in library.