Library stereotypes

The first thing that comes to mind for most people about a library is a little old lady with wire rimmed glasses on the tip of her nose, hair in a bun, index finger pursed to her lips, shushing you! They’ve even made an action figure out of her. This image brings a smile to our face, but in the big scheme of things, shushing has a terrible impact on library patrons, especially boys.

3 problems with shushing

1.    It’s offensive

2.    It’s almost always unneeded
3.    It makes a patron feel unwelcomed

Reassure adults that noise is ok

For the most part, kids are oblivious when it gets noisy in the library, even when they are reading, writing, or intensely concentrating on something. Most of the time adults have more of an issue with noise because:

  • they don’t want to be disrespectful of the rules,
  • they are worried about how the kids will represent them, or
  • they are simply accustomed to a quiet library.

Whenever a new or substitute teacher is in the library, I make a point to tell them that noise is an acceptable part of our library vision.

Provide a quiet room

Most libraries have a small study room. Make this available and offer it to a student that is having noise issues.
The time for change has come!
Libraries have changed so much over the years, but it will take some time to break this old stereotypical image. It’s high time we create a new image for libraries! A “No Shushing” policy is one step in the right direction.

Questions to Discuss

What are your thoughts about a “No Shushing” policy?

Posted in: Content

{ 26 comments… add one }

  • Debby-6-Kids

    I am in total agreement with the fact it will be a hard habit to break. I have always been told no talking allowed in the library from the time I was very little and now being an adult I find myself ‘shushing’ my own children in the library. We have been conditioned for so long that we do not even realize we are doing it.

  • ayoubmarket

    As a part of my studies I always go to the library & I always have this “shushing problem” because we have an old man as librarian, we used to make jokes over him that he preserve the library under 10 decibel, so you can imagine! In my class I always encourage the “ambiance” as we say here, but I still like the “quit room” idea for those who need silence to concentrate & focus.

  • Rebecca

    I think a “No Sushing” policy is a wonderful idea for a library. One reason I want to become a librarian is to change the library atmosphere. Most libraries seem too austere, especially for boys. I know my husband hates going to the library, but doesn’t mind going to the bookstore. Why? Because you can talk freely and eat and drink. (I read your earlier blog which mentioned allowing food and drink in the library and I think that is a fabulous idea.)

    An inviting atmosphere is definitely a step in the right direction to foster a love of reading.

  • Chuck

    Nice of you to drop by rebecca. Drop by more often. I totally agree with creating an atmosphere conducive for study but at the same time conducive for relaxation as well. You can read my recent post on my experience on not being welcomed by the library. It was so frustrating but nonetheless, it was a realization for me.

    Philippines is still not that open, I think, to this major makeover that Mike is talking about. I hope, in the near future we could adopt this idea as well.

  • keith at ela

    The “No Shushing” policy. Well I think all this shushing in libraries is a bad thing, only because it is taken to such an extreme. Of course there needs to be some order in such a place. There needs to be respect for others. Some parents can be very bad, letting their kids do anything, having no control over them, but for the librarian to keep on shushing, just because your son is asking you questions about books they are interested in. This used to happen to me when I used to take my sons into the library. My sons in the end did not want to go any more because they said that lady there is not nice, she does not like us in the library. It really had a negative effect on them and made them feel not welcome. I am glad to see now that Libraries are changing. In my home town back in England, they now have a children’s room and a quiet room for the old man who spends most of his day in the library or the academic cramming for an exam.
    When I was a boy,struggling with reading, I can just remember that far back hehehe. I just thought libraries were a place for old men to sit and read.

  • keith at ela

    Just a footnote on food and drink in libraries. Personally, the same as in computer rooms, I don’t think it is a good idea, because there are too many iresponsible people out there and books are a precious thing that can easily be ruined, some being irreplaceable. Accidents do happen, just the other day, I knocked a glass of water over my lap top, thank God I managed to unplug it, disconnect the battery before any damage. It was fine after days of drying it out with a hairdryer.
    Maybe let food and drink in set areas but not near the books. You do however have another problem. Some foods can be very smelly and offensive to other people. For example, food from different cultures, considered to be quite normal to the eater but rather smelly to the person next to them. How can you cater for this problem? Signs saying “no smelly foods allowed”
    Just my observations.

  • rbarge

    Thank you, Chuck! I just read your post about not being welcome in the library. That is terrible! I’m glad it did not discourage you from going back, though. Keep on going to the library. :-)

  • Chuck

    Your welcome, rbarge. Good to know you have already registered to this website. Please drop by anytime you want. This is a good website for educators like us. No worries! One bad experience inside the library won’t keep me from visiting it.

  • Anonymous

    I have to say there is not a “no shushing” policy in my library. It would be a goofy policy because I let the kids be as loud as they want as long as no one is in physical danger. Patrons occasionally comment and I tell them that I want those kids as life long patron and I want them to feel welcome. Other staff that occasionally get irritated know better than to even bring it up with me.

  • cindy griffin

    I am a middle school librarian and I don’t have a shushing policy. The kids are required at certain times, like before school, to keep it down to a low roar so that those trying to do work can do so. During a class though, the noise level is up to the teacher. Some don’t care; some want quiet all the time. With everyone having a laptop, kids are constantly viewing each others’ screens for work or info found surfing. This is always going to be noisy. I just want them coming to the library and learning all the great things that are available to them. Oh yes, they read books there,too!

  • Chuck

    Wow, cindy! it is such good practice to let kids express themselves as long as it is productive. I let my students talk inside the classroom. I let them shat every once in a while as long as it is productive noise and not disturbing noise. I hope sometime soon our libraries here in the Philippines would be open to the non-shushing policy mike is talking about.

  • thebookdragon

    My library serves a population of almost 1000 K-5 students and there is no assistant–just one very busy librarian (that would be me). I never thought I would be a “shushing” librarian, but I have found that if I don’t remind my classes of 25 kids to use their “library voices”, pretty soon, I can’t hear their questions, they can’t hear my answers, and the poor ESL teacher in the side room starts having trouble.

    I don’t expect a silent library–but I have found myself shushing in one way or another just so that I can serve my students. Keep in mind, our library is also a classroom and I do teach classes. Just as in a regular classroom, there are times for it to be loud and busy and even wild, but there are also times when it needs to be calm and quiet. I disagree that shushing is necessarily rude–it certainly doesn’t have to be. Frankly, I find it to be rude when adults wander in while I’m attempting to teach a class and talk so loudly that my poor students can’t hear our story or lesson (and yes, that has happened, and yes, I’ve requested these adults to please lower their voices). Now, don’t get me wrong, my students are invited to roar with stories (like the Library Lion), to experiment with how loud a classroom would get if we all brought and left our pets (as in The Teacher’s Pets), and we’ve been known to sing, and have banjo music going among other decibel heavy pursuits. Do I enforce a silent library? No. Will I continue to shush? Yes, but within the parameters of some clearly defined library policies that I cover with my students from Day 1. I think we negate the need for “shushing” librarians when we teach (and model) respectful behavior in the first place.

  • Texas library aide

    We are a middle school library and there is definitely no shushing! Our library is very lively and filled with lots of laughter. The only time we maintain quiet is if a class is in here hearing an instructor (which is rarely). The libraians and I read the books that come into our library or have the best readers check out books we can’t get to. I find the biggest problem with adults is that they don’t read what the kids are reading. I find the greatest joy discussing books with the kids. The atmosphere is so open and excited about reading that the kids often come to us now to discuss books – even though we are the “old ladies”. Being excited about books rubs off onto the kids. We really have enjoyed the added dimension of the internet! Finding book review videos or having the kids myspace or blog with characters from a book is incredible (like Maximum Ride Series). We now have assignments for kids to make their own digital or audio book talk. The kids are great and are teaching us how to do it! Needless to say, excitement, interaction, and technology have enhanced our library. The dull roar doesn’t bother anyone and the lively talking just draws kids into the interesting discussions on books. We do occasionally get stares from visitors but once they see what is going on they are thrilled that their kids are excited about reading.

  • Roberta Sibley

    I haven’t had a quiet library in over 20 years. What I do have is an area with study carrels and a space in back with a “quiet study” sign posted.
    If students want a quieter study space, they tend to sit in back, or in the carrels. It works fairly well.

    There is no way kids can work in groups and be quiet. There is a lot of traffic in and out of here, so it’s a good thing we don’t need quiet, it could never happen!

    I do not allow food though. I had some mice die under my desk, and once is enough. Food=electronics problems and mice. It would be great to be able to have an area for food, but we are not set up for that, nor do we have the staff to monitor it.

  • dina

    its interesting, when i mentioned to someone recently i was thinking of becoming a librarian they came back with the sterotype and the shushing. i don’t think the shushing is as bad as it was when we were kids. but i do think its totally unneccesary.

  • Janie

    We are lucky to have three libraries in our city. The one I work at is the newest and is full of activity. We have interactive music and singing classes for young children, guitar classes and even drum classes. We are located down the street from the local high school so the kids just walk over everyday after school. This summer we are offering them an “Open Mike” night. I tell patrons who do not like the noise to come in the morning when the kids are at school. Our library is a community gathering place and it is definitely not quiet. This is hard for some people to get used to, but I love it. We even sell snacks and have a hot chocolate/coffee machine.

  • Stephanie

    Great points! I agree that “times have changed.” Libraries should be friendly, appealing places where kids feel comfortable being themselves. Obviously, library-goers should still try to respect each other (regardless of age), but the overall atmosphere of libraries should be sunny and pleasant, not boring and silent.

  • Addyly

    Wow! Sorry to be on the other side of the argument, but must be because I am on the other side of the world. My Library used to be rather a noisy place…with months of not having a Librarian full time it took long time for students to realise the whole meaning of having a Library. It gets still bit crazy specially since we added the bean bags where they can literally fall into reading.

    I agree the whole idea of no-shushing is great specially for young readers, but it might not apply to the whole world. Young readers need to know when and where they can be loud and where not. In Houston I loved the fact that the Main building of the public library had a great children section apart from serious patrons, in a different floor, with plush toys, puzzles, and loads of hands-on material, etc.). That make things ‘easier’. However, our branch was smaller and with exception of the Summer Reading Program, we tried to keep it ‘calm’. Not shushing necessary, the ‘evil’ look of a Librarian was enough :-)

    Concluding, I do not agree on making Library time a fun hour… not everyday I mean.

    However, do not mistake me for a grumpy Librarian. As teacher and mother, I like children to feel happy and to enjoy their reading. We have fantastic story time every day of the week (32 groups in 5 days) and children feel very welcome. The whole day kids keep popping in. I always smile or nod understandingly when they come up with hundred weird excuses. We talk but just not too loudly, just as in class, and we definitely cannot have a dead-silence policy, impossible. We might not shush all the time but if we do not remind the children to lower their voice, it would be a major party! I think with boys it is not just the need to be keen on the subject of a book before even opening it but they love to share things IMMEDIATELY with a pal nearby. Girls keep more to herselves. (I love the Australian PM Readers scheme, and want to bring it in the Library soon, instead of in the classrooms).

    We might sound very strict but that is the way it has to be here, perhaps it will change one day, but for now, shushing is still needed now and then and ABSOLUTELY NO FOOD in the Library, thank you!

  • Anonymous

    I love the idea of a no-shushing policy; however, in my district silence is golden…I have actually been told I need to be more strict with the students because, currently, they “like” me but they do not “respect or fear” me. The principal expects the learning environment to be perfect. Kids should be intently focused on the library-teacher and it should be quiet enough to hear a pin drop! If I do not oblige, I may not be granted tenure in another year. What in the world can a teacher-librarian with dreams of a pancake and shush free library do when trapped in an environment like this? Any tips at all would be most gratefully appreciated and considered! :)

  • Judy

    While I agree that libraries no longer need to be quiet places, I do believe that libraries are where people come to research and read. If you are working in a culture where the voices are so loud you can’t hear yourself think and the rooms off the library are full…a nice reminder to students to sit and talk appropriately at a table is not a “bad” thing to do. Students in our library complain that it is too noisy and they cannot work. Even with rooms off the main arm it is sometimes hard to find a quiet spot to read and research in peace.

  • aliyn

    As a volunteer in the library I am OK with the noise until it gets to a certain level. But I have to say, I find more often than not, it’s the GIRLS who are screaching and squealing as they boys stand in line very respectfully. Of course, we have a few boys who are quite because they ARE up to something (but I know where they are hiding the mystery meat sandwich from lunch and go find it right after they leave), but it’s usually the girls that I have to tell to quiet down. And no, I would NOT shus someone. I will flat out tell them they are getting a little too noisey and please quiet down.

  • MPHSBibliophile

    I run a high school Library and we do not ‘shush’ people, except when they get a little rowdy. I accept talk as part of the sharing of information between students, students and teachers, teachers and teachers and any other combination you can think of. The Library staff here (2 Librarians and 1 secretary) do not use whispers. We talk in a normal, but quiet, voice.
    Unfortunately, the Librarian who was here before was very old-school. She didn’t allow any talk by students and would actually glare at me when I talked with others at times. If a student came in, they had to have an assignment or she would not let them in. The Library was NOT a warm, welcoming place that anyone wanted to spend any time in.
    She retired about 2 years ago and I took the place as Senior Librarian. The change is very evident. Not only do students discuss homework and just chat, they have actually pleaded with me to come up from classes. Our policy simply says they must have a pass from their current class teacher. The students hardly ever argue. Lunchtime is an especially busy time for us. People, whether student or faculty, come up to utilize our facilities, computers and to simply chill out and read.
    As a result, we have an active, respectful and (believe it or not) quiet Library. Shushing? No thanks.

  • NJBookwoman

    I have worked in high school libraries for the last 20 years.
    I do not SHUSH my students and I find the shushing librarian doll to be quite offensive!
    However, I do ask my students to use a quiet voice when they talk to each other as it only takes a few loud voices for everyone else to start raising the volume to what can become unbearable!

  • Anonymous

    yaeh but when they play a radio and the phone is ringing and the clock is bonging and playing a little tune every 15 minutes, then i get upset!!!

  • another HS librarian

    Would love to view some of these “no shushing” library webpages. I find that our students function better with a little more noise – twitter that most of our adults. the adults after 5 years are getting the hang of a ‘lively library’

  • Mike McQueen

    Wow, I didn’t realize all these great comments! I’ve been away for a while and am so impressed at everyone’s excitement. A friend sent me a link to buy a huge yellow No Shushing sign. It’s kind of expensive, but it sends such a great message to everyone that our library is different and that they can relax. I’d love to read more comments, keep em coming :-)


You can add your opinion here: