• I’m a librarian and I enjoy shushing people. Shutting down somebody who is blathering away on their cell phone at top volume in the Quiet Reading Room  is one of the joys of library work. Am I alone in this? Apparently not.  When I recently posted my I-love-to-shush confession on my favorite Facebook Librarian Hangout, it quickly earned 82 Likes. As well as 43 comments, both pro and con. How do we librarians really feel about shushing you? Here’s a sampling:

    I never hesitate to shush. Indoor voices, please.

    Great! Another librarian stereotype perpetuated.

    I never shush. Shushing stresses me out.  

    Shushing is appropriate for people on cell phones. But not when people are having an engaging debate or conversation.

    I was helping a patron find a DVD last week and one of the reference librarians shushed ME. I still haven’t gotten over it.

    The way one librarian chooses to quiet people has an effect on all librarians, and on our brand. Hopefully we can shush without being mean about it.

    I have no need to shush. As a seasoned librarian, I have “the look” down.

    I don’t shush. Instead, I perform a little gesture with my arms that signals Keep It Down. That gesture, with a friendly smile, usually does the trick.

    Sometimes it helps to point out to the loud mouth that everyone around them can hear their conversation.

    I was on my way over to quiet a patron once and before I reached her, she’d managed to announce her credit card information to the entire library. One can only hope that the quiet-loving patrons who were using our computers didn’t immediately go to their favorite online stores and start charging things to her.

    I was once talking loudly to a patron who is hard of hearing and another patron, with a furious look, shushed ME. (Was she embarrassed when I explained the situation to her? You bet.)  

    I only shush if I absolutely must. I see it as a necessary evil, but I don’t enjoy it.

    I hate to shush. I do it very politely but I’ve still been sworn at, called a Library Nazi, and worst of all, been totally ignored.

    I HATE doing it. I only do it when another patron asks me to.

    I consider my ability to shush to be one of my superpowers as a librarian. But I use it sparingly.  

    Our library is a Shush-Free zone. We aren’t ALLOWED to shush people.

    A patron once told ME to “lower my voice an octave.” Still scratching my head about that one.  

    A woman was talking on her cell yesterday with her speaker on. When I asked her to either wind up or take it outside she said loudly, “I gotta go. The librarian just told me to shut up.” That’s NOT what I said.

    I hate to shush.  I try to be polite but firm but I’m always worried I come off as being rude.

    Sometimes it just has to be done, but it always makes me anxious.

    A woman recently sat down at a table in the Quiet Reading Area,  pulled out her laptop and proceeded to participate in a back-and-forth that we could hear from across the room. When I asked her to keep the volume down, she hissed, “Don’t you tell me to be quiet. This is a Webinar!”

    I could really use a nice big QUIET sign.

    I’d prefer a nice big ray gun.

    I usually throw a dictionary at them… is that wrong? (Wink.)

    Ideally we could lob a book at any patron who ticked us off. THAT would be a fun library to work in. I’d love to stockpile “The Total Idiots Guide To Good Manners” behind the circulation desk for just that purpose.

    One of our librarians makes use of a decibel meter app. Our patrons seem to appreciate that approach.  

    Asking a patron to keep the noise down is fine. But an actual shush? Never.

    I never shush. Although I have been known to walk up to a group of loud patrons and say,  “Don’t MAKE me shush you!”  

    I don’t enjoy shushing people. On the other hand,  I do appreciate the looks of gratitude I get from other patrons when I quell someone who is being oblivious and obnoxious.  

    What can we conclude? Library work has changed a lot over the decades, but the library’s value as an oasis of peace and quiet has not. Nor has the librarian’s time-honored ability to shush. Loud in the library? Many of us, it seems, do not relish the task of shutting you down.  As for me? Go ahead. Make my day.

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    Article by: Roz Warren

    Roz Warren (www.Rosalindwarren.com) writes for the Funny Times, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, the Jewish Forward, Reader’s Digest and the Huffington Post. And she’s been on both the Today Show and Morning Edition. Roz is the author of OUR BODIES, OUR SHELVES: A COLLECTION OF LIBRARY HUMOR, which collects her most popular essays about library work.

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    Tell us what you think - Please make your comments

    1. strawberry48gum@yahoo.com' NewbieMedicalLibrarian says:

      It’s very hard to SHUSH or even tell patrons to be quiet where I work at. I work in an academic library where our student population consists of 125 students and the library only fits about 45 individual. Yes, I’ve done the no talking signs. Yes i’ve done the friendly email reminders and yes i’ve even told patrons (typically the same ones) to lower their voices (minimize their conversation). YET! It still continues to happen. The library is a known quiet zone but they still come in and push the talking boundaries. I don’t think they take me seriously because I’m a young librarian. Or maybe it doesn’t matter at all. I do wish that the university would let me have a speaker phone and use it when the students are being loud and obnoxious. Just a bit of a “taste of your own medicine”.

    2. kelly.siderio@gmail.com' Kelly says:

      I’m not even a librarian and I have no problem shushing

      1. Dianne Morris says:

        Brave is good! Keep shushing (can we eliminate load cell phone talkers elsewhere too.)

    3. ladydi538@verizon.net' hillsmom says:

      Seems the Chesco Library is pretty quiet, and the staff is so very helpful. Perhaps the little children’s section is less so, but I don’t go in there. You know, I rather miss the old card catalogs where you could find suggestions of more books to read. Does that make you laugh?

    4. R_bledsoe@outlook.com' Rachel says:

      I adored the opening line in this piece. Out of nowhere it grabbed me & I found myself nodding my head the whole time. Ray gun would be nice.

      1. Dianne Morris says:

        Good point!

    5. gustafson1@comcast.net' Stacey Gustafson says:

      Bingo shushing is hard core. I was afraid to pull back my chair and take a potty break.

    6. carolann@sassytownhouseliving.com' Carolann says:

      Oh my gosh my blood boils when someone shushes me lol. I would much rather have actual words spoken to me like please be quiet or lower your tone please then be shushed. I guess it makes me feel like a scolded child or something lol.

    7. rm29303@gmail.com' Rena mcDaniel says:

      I always hate taking mom into the library with me because she is so hard of hearing so I have to talk loud to her plus she talks loud because she can’t hear. I am terrified of being shushed! Then there is the problem of mom’s Alz. If she were shushed she may say F you and that is so not the mom I used to know haha!

      1. roz warren says:

        Rena I’m guessing that the librarians know you and your mom, understand the situation, and would never dream of shushing you. We have many patrons at our library who are challenged with physical or mental problems and we do everything we can do make them feel welcome and comfortable.

    8. suzanne@boomeresque.com' Suzanne Fluhr says:

      In today’s world, I’d be afraid to shush anyone for fear they’d come back with an AK47 to get even. I should go work in the library more often. I sometimes have to stop myself from shushing people in Starbucks when I’m trying to concentrate.

      1. roz warren says:

        You try to concentrate at Starbucks?? Good luck with that. I know you’re a Zentangle Grandmaster — do you need absolute silence to work your magic? Or is some background noise okay?

    9. Hbludman@gmail.com' Helene Cohen Bludman says:

      I have shushed people at the movies. Sometimes a good shush is called for.

      1. rozspam@aol.com' Roz Warren says:

        The movies. Yes. Don’t get me started.

    10. travelswithtam@gmail.com' Tam Warner Minton says:

      Ha! Make my day. That’s funny! The librarians of my youth LOVED shutting you down….in the meanest way possible.

      1. rozspam@aol.com' Roz Warren says:

        I try to do it with a sense of humor.

    11. esobelerasmus@gmail.com' Estelle says:

      I haven’t been shushed by anyone in a long time, but I totally get why in this day and age of cell phones everywhere it’s more important than ever to be in a position in the library to do so.

    12. hhecker@rogers.com' Sheila Hecker says:

      No need for shushung here in Canada…we all behave prperly in the library!
      sometimes loud snoring is heard1

    13. hhecker@rogers.com' Sheila says:

      We are so well behaved here in Canada that we don`t have to concern ourselves with loud talking in the library…sometimes loud snoring!

    14. I like the one about ‘the look.’ That’s all it would take for me to be embarrasses and be quiet!

    15. ruthienathan@comcast.net' Ruth says:

      I really loved, “I’d prefer a nice big ray gun.”

    16. katie.bassel@stmartins.com' katie b says:

      i prefer the evil stare. 😀

    17. ccassara@aol.com' CAROL CASSARA says:

      I wish more would shush people. It seems that many patrons don’t know that libraries are ‘quiet places.’ Tweeted this from your site!

    18. justdance1999@gmail.com' Mary says:

      I haven’t been in a library for years! Back in my days of writing school papers I would have died if I was shushed.

      1. rozspam@aol.com' Roz Warren says:

        Come back to the library, Mary!

    19. ShifraChester@gmail.com' Cathy Chester says:

      I need absolutely quiet when I write. And read. I’ve tried every library within a 30 mile radius, and you know what? The librarians are the loudest of all. Finally I found a county library with a quiet room. Even in there the patrons need to be shushed. By me! I think I want you to be my librarian!

      Now I write at home.

    20. joan@joanprice.com' Joan Price says:

      My local library has become a meeting place for teens and pre-teens.That’s good — they’re among books! But they seem to have no idea that they should be quiet in the library. I don’t see the staff trying to shush them, but maybe they tried and gave up.

      1. rozspam@aol.com' Roz Warren says:

        I just happened to have finished listening to your Savage Lovecast appearance, Joan. Loved it. Thanks for your comment.

    21. StaciaFriedman@gmail.com' Stacia Friedman says:

      Americans have a tendancy to speak louder than any other nationality without regard for others. I would like nothing more than for an epidemic of laryngitis to sweep the nation and force everyong to whisper.

    22. nancy@womenslegacyproject.com' Nancy Hill (@nerthus) says:

      I worked in libraries for years and years while studying/training to be an anthropologist… shushing was never my thing, but I loved chasing pervs out of the stacks!

      1. rozspam@aol.com' Roz Warren says:

        Yes! Another one of the unexpected joys of library work.