To Shush or Not to Shush?

How Do Librarians Really Feel About Shutting You Down With A Shush?

Roz Warren
Nov 11, 2019 · 3 min read
Photo by Marthijn Brinks on Unsplash

I work in a library and I enjoy shushing people.

Shutting down somebody who is hollering into their phone at top volume in the Quiet Reading Room is, for me, one of the joys of library work.

I am not alone in this. When I recently posted “I Love To Shush!” on my favorite Facebook Librarian Hangout? It earned 182 Likes.

It also inspired 87 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.

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

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

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

Shushing stresses me out. I only do it when another patron asks me to.

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

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 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.

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 lower her voice she said loudly, “I gotta go. The librarian just told me to shut up.” (That’s not what I said.)

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 across the room. When I asked her to keep the volume down, she hissed, “Don’t tell me to be quiet. This is a Webinar!”

I never shush. Instead I usually throw a dictionary at the perpetrator. Is that wrong? (Wink.)

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

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 shut down someone who is being disruptive and obnoxious.

What can we conclude?

Library work has changed a lot over the decades, but the library’s value as an oasis of calm 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.

(Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor, which would a great gift for your favorite librarian or bookish friend.)

Roz Warren

Written by

Roz Warren, FBTA, ( writes for everyone from the New York Times to the Funny Times.

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