More and more, university libraries are ditching their quiet-please personas to embrace the art of noise. It's not a complete transformation — libraries still stake out quiet study areas — but a clear nod to a generation that loves caffeine, cell phones, laptops and Facebook.
Today, libraries have invited in cafes, installed comfy chairs and sofas, relaxed the ban on food and chatter and even hung flat-screen video monitors. Competition from more-casual bookstores has driven some moves.
Experts say physical and atmospheric changes dovetail with social trends and technological advances. For example, some libraries have moved little-used book collections to devote more prime real estate for purposes such as computer workstations and collaborative study areas.
Fresno State's new library — which underwent a $105 million, 2 1/2-year expansion — opened in February and is an example of the modernization trend.
Never miss a local story.
Peter McDonald, dean of library services, said the library "needs to provide more today than just quiet space."
Authorities often use renovation or new construction to reshape a library's space plan and ambience.
Lori Goetsch, president of the Association of College and Research Libraries, said libraries evolve with the times. There are about 1,350 academic libraries around the country on campuses that grant bachelor's or higher-level degrees.
Libraries "aren't always viewed in society as institutions that are quick to change ... but I think more and more, we are becoming the change agents on campus," said Goetsch, dean of libraries at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
Part of that is driven by technology. Laptop computers demand more electrical outlets. New editions of scientific journals are available electronically. Books are being translated into the digital world. And — thanks to computers and the Internet — students don't have to set foot in the library to use it.
At the 4-year-old University of California at Merced, university librarian R. Bruce Miller considered all of that and more as he planned the library's design. The UC Merced library runs a booming laptop loaner program, trades books with other UC campuses and stocks most journals electronically.
The space itself is a mix of styles and atmosphere, from an old-school quiet area with high ceilings and pin-drop acoustics to a "Jetsons"-inspired, more relaxed room featuring metal finishes and green carpet.
"We created a lot of different kind of spaces, and people go to where it works best for them," Miller said.
Students also are free to eat and drink. Miller said the rule is "tell us if you spill something so we can clean it up, and don't use pizza as a bookmark."
At the recently renovated library at California State University, Long Beach, officials took a design cue from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Dean Roman Kochan said students in line for computer stations wait for their turn to flash on a flatscreen.
A wall of flatscreens near the library's Starbucks shows everything from international newspaper editions to baseball playoffs. With its mix of quiet and group spaces, the $30 million renovation pleases some — but is a tough sell to traditionalists.
The greatest resistance is to the cafe, Kochan said. He remembers one faculty member, in a paraphrase of a line from the film "Apocalypse Now," who growled: "I can't stand the smell of coffee in the library."
But people vote with their feet. Kochan said traffic is up about 25 percent since the remodeled library opened in June 2008.
Other university libraries have embraced the march of technology but resisted some trends. The permanent library at CSU San Marcos opened in 2004 and includes a Starbucks — but the entry is only from outside.
Covered coffee cups are OK in the library, but food is not. Marion Reid, who recently retired as the library dean, said officials are concerned that scraps and crumbs might attract pests.
In the late 1960s, when Reid worked in the library at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, one of her jobs was to turn away women wearing slacks.
Dress codes and decibel levels have loosened up over the years. Despite the noise volume — which was an adjustment — Reid said she prefers the new generation of libraries, partly because technology makes them more accessible than ever.
But people still visit in person. At Fresno State, more than 500,000 have visited the new library since it opened in February. Weekly counts are double what they were in 2004-05.
The four-story library with full basement — the largest academic building on campus — has attracted plenty of design debate on its Facebook page and beyond.
Fresno State senior Jillian Holt, 21, of Clovis, Calif., registered her complaints in a Facebook post: "I have never been in a library that was this loud."
In an interview, she pointed to the rattle of mesh stairs, jet-engine roar of bathroom hand dryers and chatter on cell phones. Holt said she is a frequent library user and would like more peace and quiet — along with more outlets and space for computers.
But others like the changes. Senior Arlene Rodriguez, 22, of Gilroy, Calif., said she enjoys socializing, people-watching and studying in the library.
She was used to a more quiet atmosphere, where "everyone has to be in a hush-hush tone." But the new version offers many different choices.
Now, Rodriguez said, "I live in the library."