Published in The Day

By John Penney

New London ― Forget those hackneyed images of librarians raising finger to mouth and shushing patrons anytime a certain decibel level is breached.

The march of technology has facilities like the Public Library of New London embracing new features at a time when cellphones, laptops and working families ― and their associated noises ― are ubiquitous.

Tucked away at the far end of the library’s adult section on Monday stood a phone booth-sized box with a clear glass door and ceiling not far from where a visitor’s phone pinged.

The “sound-proof” booth, which is more noise-dampening than completely noise-canceling, was installed earlier this month using a $6,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, library Executive Director Madhu Gupta said.

“We don’t go around anymore telling people to quiet down,” she said. “As a community hub, we want people to be social. But we also want to promote a space respectful of everyone.”

She said the booth will allow patrons to conduct a phone call or Zoom meeting at a normal speaking volume without distracting others. The booth, a first-come, first-served space, can be easily shifted to other locations in the library and features a built-in fan, lights and charging outlets.

The need for the booth grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic, when remote work was the norm for many residents, including those taking advantage of the library’s free wireless network service. The influx of working patrons came with an uptick of phone calls and video meetings. Gupta said the library’s dedicated meeting rooms couldn’t always keep up with the demand for quiet, semi-private conversation areas.

“The booth allows us to offer a solo space for that without the expense of building a whole new room,” she said.

Angela DiLella, the library’s head of information, recalled seeing such booths during her time as an undergraduate at Eastern Connecticut State University.

“We try and keep an ear out and gently remind people if it gets too loud here,” she said. “And now we can direct them to the booth.”

The library earlier this month used another $6,000 in community foundation grant funding to install a new family workstation in the children’s section. The set-up includes a computer table connected to a wooden “playpen” with embedded interactive gadgets and a mirror.

Gupta said caregivers frequently stop in at the library, which is running its “Adopt-a-Book" fundraising program this month, for a quick email check with a curious toddler in tow.

“It can be hard to get anything done if you’re trying to keep one eye on your child and another on a computer screen,” she said. “This station offers a little peace of mind. It’s so cozy I’ve seen parents carrying a child out because (the child) didn’t want to leave.”

New London resident Candice Stamm on Monday watched her 3-year-old son, Javier, jog around a library play area near the parent workstation.

“I wish I had one of those at my house,” she said.