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Can you hear me now? Exploring noise in libraries

Posted by on Friday, March 11, 2011 in News, Winter 2011.

What is a library? A place for quiet reflection or a place to exchange ideas—or everything in between? Mel Ziegler’s art installation class pondered that question recently as part of a project called “Can You Hear Me Now?” exploring noise in libraries.

A recent library survey showed that noise was a topic that needed further exploration—students were unsure where they could make noise and where they needed to be quiet. Ziegler, chair of the art department was asked if art might attract attention to the issue as a starting point for discussion. The exhibit was born.

The class toured five libraries on campus with librarians talking about the space when problems about noise arose before starting.

“This worked really well. The theme allowed the projects to hang together,” Ziegler said. “It’s a way to approach what can be a tense subject in a more playful way which also allows us to explore the issue.”

Notable projects included an installation at Blair, where a student hung clapperless bells in the trees. “I thought this was right on in terms of the project— playing with the concepts of silence and sound,” Ziegler said. “You were expecting the sound but not hearing it.”

A Peabody library project featured pipes that ran from the basement to the top floor with megaphones placed along the pipes. “You could hear someone three stories away,” Ziegler said. “It was a play on how the different layers of the library are connected.” Other projects featured ears hanging in the reading rooms and ear plugs adorned with faces.