Libraries as Place: Shhh….it’s the Library!

Our next discussion topic is guest hosted by the Queensland University of Technology Information Studies Group with the team exploring the the topic of libraries as place.  Today’s post comes from Kathleen Smeaton

'Creativity in Progress' by Amanda Hirsch used under creative commons license CC BY 2.0

‘Creativity in Progress’ by Amanda Hirsch used under creative commons license CC BY 2.0

We’ve all seen the stereotypical librarian picture, you know the one, hair in a bun, glasses, cardigan, fingers to the lips saying SHUSH loudly. Now I love a good cardigan, wear glasses and have been know to wear my hair in a bun but the one thing I pride myself as a Librarian is not being a Shusher. In fact I myself have been shused on occasion (does that make me a shushee?), but the point is I wholeheartedly embrace the concept of the Library as a communal meeting place to share ideas and welcome the noise that comes with this. However it seems I may have been doing things wrong.

A quick web search will find articles like this one and this one complaining about noisy toddlers, teenagers, and other groups ruining the silent atmosphere of the public library. While I was tempted to dismiss these views as coming from old-fashioned folk that needed to wise up to the new way the library is doing things some research I’m currently doing has proved me wrong.

Along with public libraries, academic libraries have also eased up in the shushing in recent years. Visit most academic libraries and you’ll find vibrant spaces with spaces for group discussion, and as the printed collection size decreases, libraries are ‘Removing the Silence Signs’ in most areas to create community hubs on campus.

I assumed that academic libraries were completely on the right track. Some space for silent study, more space for group work, a nice balance for students to both hang out and study. Surely students wouldn’t hold similar views as the people writing articles about quiet in the public library. As it happens many of them did.

Doing the research showed me that what many students crave from an academic library is silence. Often their home environments are full of distractions, flatmates, siblings, Mum coming in with a cup of tea to tell you not to study too hard, Netflix, the list goes on. And what the academic library can give them is something home can’t – silence. Silence made more powerful when it’s coupled with positive peer pressure to study. As one student put it, you’re less likely to watch Netflix when you can see everyone around you working hard.

Some libraries realise the value of silence and are working hard to preserve the quiet atmosphere of days gone by. I imagine that these libraries will have students that complain about the library being too silent, as the old saying goes, you can’t please everyone. However I think that what academic libraries need to do is (and here’s something I never thought I’d write) bring back silence.

I’m not talking about silence everywhere, and going back to the days of over zealous shushing. I’m talking about refining a balance between quiet zones and community areas. While most libraries do have both of these areas, the current model is more ‘noisy’ areas, and less silent areas. Maybe it’s time to rethink this model, invest in more silent areas and, occasionally, bring out the shush again.

Posted in Discussion topics, Round 2016B and tagged , , , .


  1. “Maybe it’s time to rethink this model, invest in more silent areas and, occasionally, bring out the shush again.”
    Yes, maybe…ans to make the library that place where one can go to “get away” continuous, constant and generalized stress (lights, screens, voices, sounds of cars, etc.)

    Thank you, Kathleen!

  2. I personally value quiet areas where I need to think about a topic I am writing on, however I also understand why libraries have embraced the community areas. As Kathleen has said, it is finding the balance. Perhaps investing more in library design and selecting furniture and materials that absorb and or minimise sounds would be great. I saw recently on a library’s website ‘telephone’ chairs that envelope the user and as it wraps around them, it minimises distractions.

  3. Thanks for revisiting the ‘shush’ topic! We at Macquarie University Library are currently in ‘Silent’ mode coming up to the end-of-session exams. But while many uni students have said they like this, other users (often younger high school ones) like to work with noise! So yes, you can’t please everyone all the time. I myself, like an active and at times noisy library as long as there are spaces away from the noise for those who crave the peace and quiet they do not get elsewhere.

  4. You know, NOISY is always been a problem in every libraries. We can not control the readers’ mouth to talk and discuss anything. that’s why some libraries now have the QUIET zone and DISCUSSION ROOMS provided.

    With this, we might lessened the noise but nevertheless, for me, its better noisy rather than no clients inside….

    More power.

  5. Thank you, Kathleen, for the posting. I am interested in students’ needs (undergraduates and postgraduates) for ‘silence’ and ‘noisy’ areas and in getting the balance right. Please consider sharing your references /reading list with us. Thank you.

  6. Thank you Kathleen for such a beautiful article. You have raised important points regarding increasing silent areas as opposed to reducing them for all the valid reasons you have mentioned. This is such a useful thought provoking article as we are about to redesign our library space in an effort to reduce “silent spaces”to be more relevant and let our students use our innovation hubs sufficiently without much hindrance of a “shuush” Thank you.

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