Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To Shush, or Not To Shush, That Is the Question...

...Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously noisy library patrons, or to ask them to be quiet, and by opposing end the noise. (My apologies to William Shakespeare for this bastardization of his work.)

Picture of Librarian Action Figure from Archie McPhee.

Sometimes I hate asking people in my library to be quiet. Partly it's because of the stereotype of the thing. It always makes me feel like I'm riffing on that scene from Ghostbusters where they first encounter a real ghost. Then there's the fact that it was one of the standard jokes my friends trotted out when I explained that I was going to get a master's degree in library and information science. "You need a master's degree to be a librarian? What are you going to take first? Shushing 101?" The main reason I hate it, though, is because I want members of my community to feel comfortable in my library. We never stop students from napping in here and we don't really mind when they move furniture around. I buy popular reading materials and host gaming events. My entire career has been about trying to get people to come into the library, and part of me worries that if I shush them too much they won't want to come back.

And yet, there comes a point when you just have to tell people to hush. I try to be polite about it, as in: "I'm going to have to ask you to be a bit quieter. Your voices are carrying." If that doesn't work, I get a bit more forceful: "You need to be quieter in this area." Once in a while, I even cite a higher power (on campus): "Don't make me tell your coach about this." Earlier this week I had to shush a group of student workers - sure this is their workplace, but it's still a library. Besides, I know that the library is valued by students in our community precisely because it's a quiet place they can study.

So what do you think? How do you feel about maintaining quiet or even silent parts of the library? Am I being too stuffy? 


  1. Ugh, I HATE telling people to be quiet. I once got stared down by a group of students for doing so, but they also got yelled at by another student. Our space is so small that people who need to do group work and talk, interfere with those who need to silently study. I wish that we had enough space to accommodate everyone.

  2. Positive signage, not negative. Try "Texting encouraged!" to cut down on cell phones ringing, for example.
    When I do have to shush, I do it with a smile and tell the offending parties that now I get to do the stereotypical librarian part of my job. That usually gets the point across.

  3. I think it helps to be able to offer alternatives -- group study rooms, or a cafe, or social areas for those who want to be a bit noisy, and designated quiet areas for those who want silence. I prefer asking people to move than asking them to be quiet.

  4. It depends on how your library is designed. One place I worked at had no private study areas. So, yeah it was always a struggle to maintain volume levels for people who wanted truly quiet study. And also, we now see an emphasis on "group work" - so students NEED to talk! I also like the idea of "positive" signage--here's a sign from a library I used to work at:

  5. We recently went through a renovation, so finding the right balance on noise is actually a pretty relevant issue here. Our dean wanted to make the library the "living room" of the campus, encouraging group study and collaboration. We've been successful in that. Maybe a bit too successful! The kids now refer to the library as #ClubIngram on twitter.

    As a result, we now are getting a lot of complaints about the noise. We've tried to establish the third floor as the quiet floor, but that was pretty tough to enforce during finals week! Over break, we're looking into finding and posting some funny/clever signs. We don't want to be the quiet police, and frankly, we don't have the staff to enforce it. But hopefully with enough signs around, it will be easier for students to feel comfortable shushing their peers by pointing to the signs... Of course, noisy new construction on the third (quiet) floor has kind of put a hold on those plans!

  6. Whatever your policies, don't allow the staff to be noisier than you let the students be. Double standards irk me to no end and I can't see how they are beneficial for making the library a comfortable place, either. If students aren't allowed to use cell phones, then staff shouldn't either. If students are required to be quiet, then staff should also modulate their volume. If staff can't do their work while being quiet, then maybe policies need to change to better fit the current library environment. Please, whatever you decide, be consistent and as fair as possible.