The 90’s preteen version of the much more profane Saturday Night Live was called All That. Mary Beth Denberg was never my favorite part of that show, but as an adult and a library employee, I have come to love her. Her character consistently screamed, “QUIET!! THIS IS A LIBRARY!!” at people who were not making much noise. (This targeting of the innocent may have something to do with the general fear/distrust of librarians I wrote about in my last post.) She also ran blenders, vacuum cleaners and was a loud phone talker, the worst offender of her own rules.
We were taught in library school not to shush. One school-library instructor was particularly passionate about this: we ought to expand our definition of libraries as silent spaces, and to go out and preach the gospel of libraries as active, vibrant, sometimes loud spaces of learning and discovery.
People still get pissed when it’s too loud.
My response to volume depends entirely on my irritability level at that precise moment, and how angry the customer is who brings it to my attention. Sometimes I cringe, feeling like a restrictive perpetuator of the ‘shushing librarian’ stereotype. Sometimes, people truly are being disruptive and inconsiderate of their neighbors. That category of people responds by: either immediately acknowledging wrongdoing and apologizing or glaring at me and rolling their eyes, resuming the behavior immediately after I leave. The rude ones are my targets and I make sure to pop in multiple times. Part of being in a public library is knowing it is a communal, shared space, and no one group of people owns it–even the librarians! But, like, we are the closest to that so you should listen to us.
I feel lucky to work in a busy, popular, community-centered public library. Sometimes I even like when it is loud there. You know what ISN’T loud? An empty building. Volume means there are people utilizing the space in many various ways, and there are designated silent work spaces for those who visit the library because literally nowhere else in their lives is quiet enough for them to focus.
All that said, my other job at a university library can feel like a time warp. The third floor is dedicated to silent study, and was built at a time when this was the only way people used the library. There is no carpet, no soundproofing, and ANY sound travels in a maddening way. The kids who work up there are the self-isolating, serious students who either need to get serious studying done.. Or they’re the kids who couldn’t find seating on the second floor and will proceed to chatter and get death glares. Students will frequently make phone calls down to the staff and, whispering, ask them to make an announcement reminding their neighbors they should not be speaking.
And I have had the great fortune that my current ongoing project has been to take a label gun (like a stockperson in a grocery store uses to price items) to a selection of 45,000 books.
I want to shush myself.
Let this writing serve as my apology and penance to all the kids who are genuinely confused and almost immediately enraged at the squeaking and click! sound of the gun stamping the labels and pushing them forward, and the tap! when I touch the label to each book. I was never able to study listening to music, but the kids these days can… And I’m thankful for that, because if I heard this repetitive, annoying noise when I was studying, I would have steamed until it was done (possibly an hour at a stretch) and lost all productivity because I would have repeatedly had a conversation with myself saying, “leave, jackass! Go study somewhere else! This is so annoying and it will never stop!” and then talking myself out of it.
Miraculously, I have only had 2 students actually approach to determine what I am doing. I have apologized to several when I am nearby and see they don’t have headphones, and they wave me off, saying it’s okay. Surely they are international students, because their humility and lack of entitlement was startling in its non-American-ness. The non-confrontational tendencies of the students I’ve encountered do not stop my anxiety from causing me major distress. I keep waiting for one of them to snap, take my sticker gun and bash me over the head with it repeatedly. I find myself holding my breath, listening on high alert for the approach of hostile college students.
But, the project is almost done and I haven’t been beaten or verbally abused yet, and there is even carpet in the plans for redesign!
Now all we need is some updated furniture and we will be good to go! That should be easy, right?