This is a library - we're not supposed to be cool.

There was a great article in the NY Times today about the British Library’s hallowed reading rooms, which are gasp being overrun by teenagers and other “unscholarly” (read “unworthy”) characters. In its own way, the article actually does a pretty good job of outlining the evolving nature of libraries and their user communities.

There are a ton of hilarious quotes in this article, most of them dripping with disdain courtesy of serious scholars. To wit:

“The worst is that they actually answer their phones,” [Tristram Hunt, a historian, professor and television personality,] said. “The phone vibrates and they go, “˜Hold on a minute, Nigel,’ and then they run out of the reading room and take the call.”

Claire Tomalin, a historian, was quoted as saying that the library was “full of what seem to be schoolgirls giggling” and not using the library for any necessary research purpose.

“I heard one say, “‘I’ve got to write about Islam. Can I have your notes?’” she said.

“There’s loads of people dressing like they’re in an episode of “‘Skins’ and high-fiving each other,” said Matt Taunton, a 28-year-old postdoctoral research assistant, referring to a television series about the wild and crazy lives of teenagers in Bristol.

He said he had recently asked a group of students to be quiet. “They looked at me like I wasn’t cool,” he said. “I thought, “˜This is a library “” we’re not supposed to be cool.’”

Mr. Hunt, referring to students with iPods, said: “They’re sitting next to me with their Walkmen on, and I tell them to turn it off. I’ve become like a granddad, and I’m only 33.”

So I’m wondering what the big deal is. Don’t libraries exist so people can go to them? And not just a few stuffy academics? The article did include a good quote from someone in the library’s PR department:

A library spokeswoman said that the crowds were a reflection of the library’s success and that today’s researchers have a new, more interactive approach to their work.

“The library has changed and evolved, and people use it in different ways,” said the spokeswoman, who asked that, in accordance with library policy, her name not be used. “They have a different way of doing their research. They are using their computers and checking things on the Web, not just taking notes on notepads.”

And then it ends with this zinger which, for all of us who’ve had one of these professors in our academic career (and who hasn’t?) is absolutely delicious:

Richard Martin, 26, a first-year doctoral student, said the undergraduates were not the only group behaving badly at the library.

“The only defense is that the people I see most asleep are the old-men academics,” he said. “They turn up with a dozen books in the morning, briefly flick through one, fall asleep and then go out for a long lunch.”