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University Library announces new sound level system

System clarifies noise expectations, aims to create inclusive environment at Brown libraries

<p><strong>&nbsp;</strong>Prior to the implementation of the new system, there was no formal sound regulation across all libraries.</p>

 Prior to the implementation of the new system, there was no formal sound regulation across all libraries.

The University Library has implemented a new sound level system to address feedback regarding “concerning” noise levels in library spaces, according to a Feb. 21 announcement. The new system will be instituted across the John D. Rockefeller Jr., John Hay, Sciences and Orwig Music Libraries, and provides ranges of acceptable decibel levels for specific spaces. 

The system outlines three categories of sound levels. “Absolute Quiet,” which ranges from zero to 25 decibels, applies to locations including the absolute quiet rooms at the Rock and the SciLi. “Considerate,” the next tier, ranges from 26-40 decibels and applies to locations like the reading rooms at the Rock and Orwig. “Conversational” falls between 41-60 decibels and applies to locations including lobby areas and closed group study rooms. 

The Library began considering the new system in fall 2023 after receiving feedback through an anonymous form on the Library website reporting “disruptive” volumes of noise in libraries, Director of Library Communications and Public Programs Jennifer Braga said. 

Access Services staff, who work at circulation desks, also reported receiving noise complaints, Braga shared. In response to the student feedback, “(the Library) thought we should have a system in place and make it clear to everyone what the expectations are for different spaces in our libraries,” she added. 


The implementation of the new system involved a rigorous internal review process, according to Braga who “spearheaded” the plan, gathering feedback from groups and staff related to Brown’s libraries. Braga also took guidance from systems employed by academic libraries at peer institutions while trying to take a “softer approach.” 

“It isn't so much about slapping wrists … as it is making people aware of the kind of sound that is appropriate for the different spaces,” she said. “We have a lot of people coming to an academic library for the first time, so we really wanted the system to be informational, and to feel welcoming and not forbidding,” she added. 

The new guidelines include examples of sounds in each specified decibel range to ensure students understand what the levels mean. 

Braga said she tried to select noises patrons might associate with “relaxation” or “feeling comfortable,” such as “rustling leaves and rain.” 

Prior to the implementation of the new system, there was no formal sound regulation across all libraries, according to Braga. She added that the decibel ceiling signs in the Friedman Center at the SciLi and the Hay’s quiet system for the Willis Reading Room were the only guidelines in place.

The Library implemented a “soft launch” of the new system in fall 2023 in the Rock’s Absolute Quiet Room and its neighboring space, Braga said, before expanding it across other libraries. 

According to Braga, the system has received favorable responses so far. She added that the anonymous feedback form and email responses received by the Library indicate that individuals are pleased with the system’s implementation. Staff also feel that the guidelines give them “something that they can point to when (they) get complaints,” Braga said. 

Alex Lee ’25, who studies in multiple campus libraries, said that he hadn’t experienced significant noise issues. In his experience, while people “tend to observe the noise levels” in the Reading Room at the Hay, the Rock is “a little bit less regulated,” Lee said.

Lee said he thinks the newly implemented system is beneficial for providing clarity on expected noise levels. 

“Before, every library kind of seemed to have its own system, and it wasn't very well enforced,” Lee said. “Now I have an idea of what the sound level should be … in any given area,” he said.


But Maureen Klaiber ’27, who frequently studies in Brown’s libraries, shared feeling confused about the new guidelines. “I personally haven't had a lot of issues with the sound system … and I haven't noticed anyone else really complaining about it,” Klaiber said. “So I'm a little confused as to why they're changing it.”

Even with the new system in place, Klaiber anticipated minimal changes. “I feel like people who had been ignoring sound rules thus far aren’t going to change that now that the rules have changed,” she said. 

Braga emphasized that the Library’s new system intends to foster a welcoming environment. “I don't want people to think, ‘I don't want to go to the library because last time I went there, people were talking and I felt like there was nothing I could do and I just left,’” she said. 

While the Library will continue to adjust the system as needed, Braga expects the system to be maintained going forward. “We all see the benefits of having a system in place, so I don't think it's ever going to go away,” she added.

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“For the most part … it's been a welcome new way for people to understand a collectively beneficial way to enjoy the library spaces,” Braga said.

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