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Salon and the Shushing Librarian

Things I Never Learned in Library School: To Shush or Not To Shush?

Just the other day I mentioned that I thought, perhaps, maybe, there should be a little more shushing in the library.  I know – it seems such a treasonous thought and sets back the fight against stereotypes 100s of years.   See: Renegade Library Thoughts.

Then today, I open up my browser and cruise online to find THIS article entitled Bring Back Shushing Librarians at Salon.com. (by Laura Miller)

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, shall we?  Seriously, speaking of stereotypes, could they have found a more stereotypical picture to illustrate this piece? At least they mention that we are “highly skilled, well educated and socially aware.”  Moving on.

Salon is referencing the latest finding of a PEW study that looks at what library users want from libraries and fourth on that list is “quiet study spaces for adults and children.” 

How a library can meet this need depends a lot on a library’s space.  The library I currently work at is a smaller branch to a main library.  Like most branches, it is one open space.  It’s a beautiful building, but spatially and architecturally challenged (the entry way is an echo chamber).  There is no space for smaller, private study rooms, which is typical of most branch libraries.  And to be honest, we can be very busy.  At times, I have counted over 60 people in our building with almost every chair and table occupied.

Libraries are busy places, and that business involves things like group studies, library employee and patron interactions at a variety of desks, parents reading to children, and more.  Families and children coming into the library have a different dynamic and need than an individual coming into the library looking for a quiet place to study, and not all library buildings are designed to meet both of those needs well.

Some libraries are better designed to meet the changing landscape of libraries today.  They have smaller, independent study rooms.  Their children and teen areas are a more reasonable distance from areas designated as quiet study areas.  But older buildings don’t always retrofit well to the changing needs of our library populations.  Perhaps nowhere do we see this more clearly than in teen services; how many of us have had to try and find a sensible place to put a new teen area in library that didn’t previously recognize the need for teen services?  You have to consider things like noise levels, line of sight, location in reference to both the children and adult collections, funding we don’t have and more.

In the end, I’ll admit it, I think that there are a few steps that libraries can – and should – take to create a shared space for a wide variety of people that have different goals.  Teens coming to use your teen area are often coming to work on group projects (which are being heavily emphasized in the schools) or be social, while others are looking for a quiet oasis to read and reflect.  For example, I am a huge believer that cell phone conversations don’t belong in the public spaces of the library.  Can we ever really stop them? No.  But I think when we overhear patrons talking loudly on their cell phones, it is perfectly acceptable to ask them to please take their conversation outside or end their call.  There is something about talking on a cell phone that seems to make people talk 10 times the normal volume.  And to be completely honest, I have asked a patron to turn their sound off so we didn’t hear their every click of the keyboard as they texted in the “quiet area”. 

As Salon mentions, libraries are changing and there is an emphasis on things like programming, being a community space and more.  In many libraries there is a sense of pride that we are no longer those quiet, stodgy relics of the past.  But sometimes, we stray too far from our mission and forget that we should also be that place for an individual to come in, browse the shelves and have that serendipitous moment with a book. So yes, let there be shushing, but as I mentioned in my Sunday Reflection, it needs to be consistent and polite.  And please, let’s dispense with the librarian stereotypes – even when shushing.