OWHL Stoplights Gauge Noise

Despite the new décor in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, you will not see many cars driving through the Garver room any time soon. The library’s most recent attempt to manage noise levels involves three sound monitors disguised as traffic lights. A fourth traffic light, not in use, simply hangs on the wall. The stoplights, or “Yacker Trackers” as Instructional Librarian Sara Ciaburri refers to them, glow a color corresponding to the surrounding noise level. The library has posted signs near the stoplights that say, “The stoplights were installed so there is an objective way for everyone (including us librarians) to tell if the noise levels are getting too high for a studious atmosphere.” All three stoplights are currently positioned by the entrance of the Garver room, the library’s silent study area. A high noise level prompts a red light, a moderate noise level is represented by a blinking yellow light and an adequate noise level corresponds to a green light. Gauges on the stoplights allow the library to control how much noise will produce a red light. At the current settings, the surrounding noise level must reach 80 decibels to make the stoplights change to red. According to the library’s signs, “80 decibels is the equivalent to downtown rush hour traffic in a large city, honking cabs and all.” Jeffrey Marzluft, Acting Library Director, said that the stoplights serve “as a guideline of how students are expected to behave not only in the library, but throughout campus.” Marzluft believes that the stoplights successfully regulate tolerated noise levels. He said that in previous years, students and librarians all had different definitions of “loud,” which made enforcing rules about disruptive behavior difficult. However, some students question the success of the stoplights. Rekha Auguste-Nelson ’09 said, “I think the stoplights cause more problems than they solve. Everyone is more amused by the lights than intimidated by them.” She noted that many kids play with the stoplights by trying to make them change colors, which can become a distraction. Marzluft hopes that this “thrill” of playing with the stoplights will subside within a week or two. Some students consider the spotlights demeaning. Joe Liotta ’10 considers the stoplights “childish” and said, “There is really no need for them.” In response, Marzluft said, “I can understand these complaints, but I found the barking, yelling, shrieking and being disrespectful in the library [last year] to be demeaning too.” The library purchased the stoplights from an educational supply store over the summer and they functioned successfully when first installed during Andover’s Summer Session. Though Marzluft did not state how much money the library spent on the stoplights, the same type of stoplight sells for $99.95 online. The stoplights represent the newest effort in the library’s long line of attempts to manage noise levels. Previous attempts have included roaming proctors that remind students to be quiet and the addition of large STOP signs that warn students to stop talking when entering the Garver Room. “It isn’t too large of an expectation for students to have silent locations in the library and it isn’t too large of an expectation for the library to try to provide those locations,” Marzluft said.