Unplugging at the Library

American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association, recently published a provocative thought piece by two practicing librarians who questioned whether libraries should institute tech-free zones.

What authors Amanda Wakaruk and Marc Truitt had in mind was a network of “safe harbors . . . free of external distractions of computers, cellphones, and social networking tools, allowing sustained focus and contemplation.” They referred to these tech-free spaces as “Waldon zones,” summoning the image of Thoreau, who withdrew from civilization in order to ponder and reflect upon nature at Waldon Pond.

Even reading rooms are no longer sacrosanct, Wakaruk and Truitt point out. Although these areas are supposed to be quiet zones, anyone who has used a reading room lately is probably all too aware of the intrusive sound of clacking laptop keys or muffled cell phones ringing in the background.

Yet, we at Unplug & Reconnect were heartened to read that there’s a trend in which libraries are starting to establish such tech-free zones. The authors point to Stephens College, which recently began requiring students to deposit their cell phones at the door, as one example.

To be sure, we couldn’t imagine today’s modern libraries without the wondrous technology that makes searching for information so much more efficient (remember the old Dewey Decimal System card cabinets, anyone?). But we think it’s a good idea for library patrons to have a quiet place to read and to reflect, as did Thoreau, once they’ve found the reference material the library’s search system helped them to find so effortlessly.

Time will tell whether or not a movement to unplug at the library gains any traction. The idea certainly has our vote.


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