Dyspeptic Observations

During the past year, I have experienced the luxury of conducting research at the New York Public Library, one of the world’s great collections. When I need a break from my work, I wander through the library’s halls, marveling at the architecture, the art, the exhibits–the sheer wonder of the institution.

Unfortunately, many of my fellow visitors lack a similar reverence. Tourists interrupt patrons quietly reading at desks by snapping selfies, giggling foolishly, and chatting incessantly. People sit down in the middle of stairwells and even run about as if in a grade-school gym. They simply can’t behave.

George Biddle, The New York Public Library (1920). The painting hangs in the Salomon Room in the New York Public Library. (Photograph by author)

While recently studying the murals in the library’s third-floor rotunda, I noticed a young woman eating a sandwich. On the same evening, I stared dumbfounded at a man holding a loud conversation on a headset near the microform reading room.

Do people no longer know how to conduct themselves in a library or any public space for that matter? Do we live in a society possessing no sense of basic courtesy? Libraries and museums should be places to discover and explore the treasures of thought and culture. Instead, people seem to view them as rides in an urban amusement park.

My recent observations do not instill me with optimism.



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