Debate: is the Billy B Level 4 drama justified?

Durfess has been full of discussion over the ever-contentious issue of who should be allowed to sit on Level 4 of the Bill Bryson. Palatinate asked two contributors to give their opinion on whether the anger over noise on level is justified.

Billy B quiet: Level 4 stress is no joke


I’m all for a cheeky bit of misbehaviour in the library. One November night I was playing hide-and-seek in the Billy B until 2am. With friends, that is. Not alone. 

The final round only ended when I found the birthday boy half asleep after 30 minutes of searching. He rebuked me for taking so long. The poor chap was losing brain cells with boredom. 

This anecdote does two things. Firstly, it entirely undermines me as the one arguing that the library’s top levels should be treated with reverence. But it also works in my favour. It proves that at least some of us wanting Level 4 of the Billy B to be silent are not a repressive, joyless species of Scrooges demanding your complete surrender to the library gods. 

Indeed, the polarity in opinion is probably overstated by some Durfessers, who have advanced an “us vs them” narrative. Overall, there’s a social code that most of us should agree on. The top floor of the library should generally be kept silent. That’s what it’s for. Duh.

And there are reasonable exceptions to this code. If you’re quietly greeting a friend, that’s cool. Go ahead and unzip that pencil case. Glug that water. Nobody rational cares if you do this. 

What we are contesting is people blatantly disregarding others by not minimising the disruption they constantly cause. Those who speak as if they’re talking down a megaphone, those who eat obnoxiously loud, those whose headphones are at blaring volume, those who listen to Justin Bieber at any volume, those who leave their horrendous shits to fester in the toilets or elsewhere. These are the bogeypeople against whom we should unite. 

These areas are clearly designed for lone wolves who want to procrastinate undisturbed

The library has spaces devoted to group discussion as well as a café with a marvellous M&M’s themed vending machine. These zones are conducive to vigorous conversation and even more vigorous mastication. 

The city of Durham also has a plethora of places where people can be loud to their heart’s content: Palace Green, Poundland, Mr. Bojangles, your friend’s kitchen. Name a place in Durham and, chances are, you can make a racket there.

The top levels of the library are not the same. With their rows of boxed study spaces that make you feel like you’re trapped in a Shreddies square, these areas are clearly designed for lone wolves who want to procrastinate undisturbed. Surely it’s not unfair to conserve this habitat, to keep sacred the hallowed desks of Level 4? 

A few don’t embrace the concept. We’re talking full-blown conversations, groups just plonking themselves at a table, not getting any work out, and jabbering on until their teeth fall out. 

Towards the end of term, I saw one frequenter of Level 4 get out his phone and ring somebody. The audacity! He proceeded to babble about his social life at full volume until somebody courageous enough (not me) suggested he step outside. The worst part was that his social life wasn’t so exciting, even in comparison to the dreary academic articles we were all reading. Why couldn’t he save us the boredom and migrate to the staircase which was literally metres away? 

My skin crawled at how I had become a fully-fledged nerd, the stereotypical academic killjoy

If you don’t have the decency to take your conversation elsewhere, or to turn your music down to a volume that’s fair on others, you’re being inconsiderate. 

And it takes balls of titanium to ask somebody to be quiet. I once did it in the silent area at college back home. Two troublemakers had been chatting at regular volume for 20 minutes, and everyone in the room was exchanging irritated glances. After plucking up the courage, in steps Luke Power.

I did not feel heroic. I felt like the biggest loser in the world. My skin crawled at how I had become a fully-fledged nerd, the stereotypical academic killjoy. I’ve lived in shame ever since. Obviously, they ignored me. 

So please, save us the anxiety and have some manners!

Level 4: the Durfess drama speaks to a wider issue


If this debate is new to you and you’re reading this wondering, ‘what’s all the fuss about?’, a simple five-minute scroll through Durfess will see you discover the lively discussion of who belongs on the 4th floor of the Billy B. Durfess has been full of raging students bemoaning the absolute racket that appears to be taking place on the silent 4th level of the library; a conversation, I can confidently say, that is not unique to this particular academic year. 

The dialogue of who belongs where in the Billy B, or who even belongs in the Billy B at all, is one which resurfaces every year, particularly around exam season; alongside this upset at the noisiness of Level 4 has been the assertion that the floor should only be for finalists.

Any conscientious student should have the right to a productive space of work, no matter their stage of study

This to me is a pretentious, unjustified privileging of finalists work which, albeit important, is of no greater prerogative than second year degree-classifying work and even first year foundational learning. Whilst I agree that the stakes do rise as one progresses throughout university, any conscientious student should have the right to a productive space of work, no matter their stage of study. 

The suggestion that only finalists are worthy of a silent workspace invalidates the perfectly justifiable stresses and efforts of students at earlier stages of study. This hierarchy is the equivalent of a university student suggesting an A-Level student should not utilise the local library for their revision, because the university student is at a higher level of study and, therefore, by Durfess logic, is more deserving of the study space. This is, of course, an unreasonable suggestion, because public libraries are spaces for everyone and must remain so in order to allow anyone without access to a suitable study space a quiet, spacious place to work. The same principle applies to level 4 of the Billy B. 

I would guess, however, that the majority of students do not feel that level 4 should be limited to finalists, and rather simply argue for complete silence. I do have more sympathy with this argument, but still take issue with the Durfess army who claim that level 4 is a cacophony of first and second years partying, chatting, and eating copious amounts of crisps. 

Perhaps the noise makers are actually doing us a service in teaching us to focus amongst a very small amount of external sound

I tend to avoid level 4 anyway, not keen to be either a noise-hater, nor noise-maker; but I am confident in saying that it is, in the grand scheme of things, not a particularly loud location. I am sure all can agree that hearing whispered conversation is annoying, but if it entirely disrupts your ability to work then a communal study space is not the place for you. Any room with a large number of people in it is going to generate some form of noise, and if you want a space where you can control the sound — studying at home is a safer option. Even with the odd crisp-eater, the library is a quiet place to work, unrivalled by any work area experienced in the ‘real world’ so to speak, so perhaps the noise makers are actually doing us a service in teaching us to focus amongst a very small amount of external sound. 

But if it really does bother you, a good pair of headphones or earplugs will solve the problem, whilst allowing the poor, well-meaning student to eat their lunch in peace. Of course, full-voiced conversations and extensive periods of highly disruptive noise are annoying anywhere in the library; but the noise policing of level 4 Durfessers has certainly become obnoxious, and in a shared communal space all need to be slightly more tolerant.


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