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Reading was not that common in the last several centuries because people could not afford education or have time dedicated to such activity. But as the society progresses, reading has become part of people’s daily life. Everyone can read, regardless of one’s social class, race, age or gender. Because reading has become a widely common activity, reading places are built to accommodate people’s need. Public library is found in every single neighborhood. Even though reading places are generally called libraries, they differ from one another.
The best example would be The West Los Angeles Regional Branch Public Library and UCLA Powell Library. Although both libraries are viewed as public places, UCLA Powell Library serves more like a parochial space for UCLA students and faculties. These two libraries are located in the very different neighborhoods surrounded by different kinds of people. UCLA Powell Library is submerged in a busy neighborhood where students can be seen everywhere at most time of the day.
The West Los Angeles Regional Branch Public Library is located in a deserted neighborhood where there are not many people on the street during most time of the day, and so often only cars pass by. The library contains mostly local people. Local people are adults that live or work nearby and children who go to school in this neighborhood. The adults in this library look like blue collar workers. They dress very casually and carry backpacks with them. Specifically, there is a man with paints all over his clothes.
Sometimes some homeless people come in, use the bathroom and sit at reading tables. In the Powell library, nearly 100% of the population is composed of students and faculty. No homeless people are seen with that area.
The division within the library demonstrates the point that Powell Library serves as if it is a parochial space. The main reading room of UCLA library is divided into two sides. One side is mostly filled with sofas and long comfortable seat. The other side is occupied by study table with desk lamps, computers and book shelves. In contrast with the campus library, the public library is divided into areas for children, teens, and adult. One computer area is on the children side and the other one is found on the adult side. The reading environment is as not as comfortable as that in campus library, because no desk lamps or sofas are provided. These facilities influence how people treat the place and how they behave in certain ways. Students make use of every single space in the library. Students use the computers to search. Students sit on the sofas while doing work on laptops.
Some students even sleep and listen to music on sofas. Also students have all kinds of sitting posture. Some lay down while reading books. I saw a girl even put her feet on the little short table in front of her while she was sitting on a sofa reading a book. During my observation, a girl all of a sudden got up from her sleep and went out. All this time during her sleep, she was lying down on a long seat. The library has become a nap place for her. Sofas and long comfortable seat have contributed to students’ comforts, making them feel as if they are at home. Without these facilities, students would not be able to lie down and rest when they are tired from studying or doing homework. These facilities also help save time for students too. Sometimes students could be so busy that they even run out of time to sleep. By staying in the library, they could study for some time and go to sleep, then wake up and go back to study mode. Sleeping or napping seems like a common thing to do in UCLA campus library.
This certainly cannot be done in public library. I have never seen someone lying down to sleep in the public library. Or if someone puts her feet on the table, some other person, or maybe the library’s worker will tell that person to put her feet down, because these behaviors are definitely be viewed as inappropriate behaviors. There are certain rules that are enforced in the public whereas in a more like a parochial space, these rules no longer exist. The sofas and long comfortable seat symbolize that people can feel like as if they are at home. Even though public library is a public place, anyone can go in. Homeless people would not choose this place as a place to sleep although it is a nice, quiet place with the least disturbances. They would use the restroom inside the public library, but not use the place to sleep. They would follow such rule that sleeping is not allowed in a public library. But imagine that if a sofa is put in the public library, one would think that it’s acceptable to sleep on a sofa and therefore may induce the act of sleeping.
This idea is similar to the broken window theory by Wilson and Kelling, which implies that once a signal is shown to cause certain behavior, then people would think it’s acceptable do such act. Parochial space generates the idea of comfort; therefore the reaction of people to noise differs in these two libraries. Library is viewed as a quiet place for people to read. Generally people cannot read if there is noise. That is also why people can only whisper while they are in the library. This is not the case in The West Los Angeles Regional Public Library where conversations among people can be heard all the time. The volume of conversation is a lot softer in UCLA Powell library than in Public library.
For instance, I could hear the content of the conversation between the patron and the library book check out person from a great distance. In contrary, I could not hear the content of conversation in the UCLA Powell library. For example, there were two girls chatting right next to me in the Powell Library. They were whispering very softly. I only saw their lip moving, but could not hear anything. Even though the volume of people in the public library is viewed as loud when comparing to the campus library, people don’t feel disturbed. They were all very focused on what they were doing. Nobody complained anything. During my observation, there was a dog barking outside the library. Everybody could definitely hear it, but nobody took any action to get rid of the noise. In UCLA Powell library, even a slight little noise can disturb people. For example, a cell phone ringtone went off and the sound was not that loud, but immediately a few heads turned to see what was going on. Students were trying to minimize the noise as much as possible.
When someone pulls the chair out to sit down, a noise is made by having the chair scratched against the floor; therefore he/she would try not to disturb others by lifting the chair up a little bit. In a parochial space, people care more for each other. They know people do similar works in this place. They belong to the same community, whereas people in the public library each have their own unique identities, different backgrounds and do different kinds of work. That’s why people have strong reaction when something annoying breaks out in the campus library. People think that people should understand each other’s need for a quiet and comfortable place to study. Unlike the people in the campus library, people who are in the public library have no clues about each other’s life; therefore they don’t need to care about each other. As long as nobody complains, they would find the noise volume to be acceptable. People feel more secure in campus library than in public library. For example, in the campus library, all kinds of students’ belongings can be seen on study table.
Students have their laptops out, books, wallets, i-phones, glasses, water bottle, snacks, binders, etc. Wallet is the main point. People would never put their wallet out in front of other people in the public because it has the most valuable things of a person. Students in the UCLA library are not afraid of their wallet being stolen while it is being put out. Not only because this library acts as parochial space but also the library is full of eyes watching. The eyes include those of students, library employees, security guards and other people as well. Crimes could be easily prevented or stopped with these eyes watching. This idea demonstrates Jane Jacobs’ philosophy in her ‘The uses of sidewalks: safety’, in The death and life of great American cities. “We are lucky possessors of a city order that makes it relatively simple to keep the peace because there are plenty of eyes on the street. (Jacobs, 54)”
Not only does watching help people feel more secure, but also the interaction among students help as well. For instance, when a student needs to go somewhere else, she/he would ask the person next to her/him to watch her stuff for her. The look of the people in the library is the key point too. As time goes by, people are more concerned with how they look in front of others. According to Bauman’s philosophy, we change from a world of solid modernity to liquid modernity. People view others also based on what they consume. In the campus library, each of the individuals is well educated person and well dressed. A statement from ‘Territories of the self by Christena Nippert-Eng shows how important our clothing and appearance are. “Nothing reflects the varying identities we assume more than our clothes (Davis 1992; Stone 1962) Wearing a particular costume is probably the single best way to induce ourselves to mentally assume a role. (Nippert-Eng, 50-51)”
In the view of people, people who are well educated and well-dressed are less likely to commit crime than others, such as the homeless people. In contrast with the campus library, the public library is not that busy.People sit far away from each other, having little or no interactions at all. People only mind their own businesses. So when a crime happens, people would not respond that quickly. There are not enough eyes to watch for each other. Also since public library is a public place, anyone can go in and people are not responsible for anything bad happening. Another point is that there is no security guard by the entrance. Security guard acts as the role of maintaining order. He/she is the one who makes sure that there is no broken window, according to ‘Broken Windows’ by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. “Just as physicians now recognize the importance of fostering health rather than simply treating illness, so the police—and the rest of us—ought to recognize the importance of maintaining, intact, communities without broken windows. (Wilson and Kelling, 13)”
Without the security guard in the public library, this means that order may break at any point. This is also the reason that people feel less secure when they are in public library than in campus library. Nevertheless, because there are many kinds of “strangers” in the library, and each of them act differently, people need to be alert of each of their actions, making sure that those actions would not bother them. Every library has its own restroom for the convenience of its patrons. The restroom in these libraries differ from one another. The public library restroom should be viewed as not as clean as the restroom in Powell library, because homeless people use the public library restroom as well as local people and the restroom in campus library are only used mostly by students and faculties. The result comes out as the opposite in my observation. The restroom in public library is cleaner than that in Powell library.
In public library, the floor is dry and there is no paper towel on the floor. The restroom in Powell library is not dirty but paper towel and toilet paper are all over the ground and the floor is bit slippery. This happens because the restroom in Powell library is used more often than that in public library. There is also an interesting fact about the door of the public library restroom. On the door of the woman restroom, a sign is posted, saying “Women only, in this restroom, No men”. There is no similar sign posted on the door of men restroom. This sign implies that the men’s restroom is used more often than the women’s restroom. And it is true because the ratio of number of men to women in the public library is high. This sign warns people that men cannot use the women’s restroom by any means, and they still need to wait for their own restroom.
Contrarily, no such sign is posted on the restroom door of UCLA Powell library. This is because ratio of men and women in the library is about the same. There are about the same number of male students and female students in the library and so their use of restroom is about the same as well. What this information tells us is that there are fewer women out in the public than men because women may have to take care of children, or do housework. Or women are more likely to be at parochial spaces such as the community club. Lastly, I want to talk about the computer use in these two libraries. Computer seats can be filled up easily in public library, whereas computers are always available in Powell library. In the public library, people come not for books but for computers most of the time. In campus library, people are always equipped with laptops, so they don’t need the computers in the library. The reason for that is local people either cannot afford a computer at home or don’t need it that often, so they would rather use it in a library in which they don’t need to pay to use it.
On the other side, computer is an essential tool for students to study. Students use computers every day to access web, type essays, and do research. It is very inconvenient for students to do academic works without computer. Therefore, students have laptops with them most of the time. Even though the two libraries are both reading places, they serve different purposes for different people. The UCLA Powell Library serves more like a parochial space for students to study, whereas the West Los Angeles Regional Public library is really a public place that is open to all kinds of people. In a parochial space, one does not need to develop a sense of security as much as in public space because everyone in this parochial space seems to belong to the same community. Even though students in Powell library don’t necessarily know each other, they know that they all belong to the same school and are getting similar educations.
People would regard each other’s feeling more by minimizing the noise in that library. Unlike UCLA Powell library, the West Los Angeles Regional library is a public space which is not limited to anyone; people would have to be alert to their surrounding and people around them. This is why people rarely have any contacts or interaction with one another. They would want to stay as far away from each other as possible. They need to be aware all the time in case some unexpected, terrible things happen. In contrary, students, in the campus library, tend to put even the valuable belongings (wallet, i-phone ) on the desk in front of others and are not afraid of them being stolen. They have developed a sense of being at home while they are in the library. Not only do they have comforts because they belong to the same group, but also the library is always filled with students and thus it symbolizes that there are always eyes watching for each other.
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