Thursday, November 13, 2008

Get Your Shush On

Every time I have to ask someone to be quiet in the library, another piece of my soul dies.

Shushing people is the only part of my job I hate, and I do it an average of 3-4 times a day. We have a Quiet Study Area right near my desk. I know that not everyone needs a quiet area to study (especially Millenials who grew multitasking to music, TV, computers, and cell phones all at the same time), but this is the only place on campus where people who do need quiet place can find it. Unfortunately, the building has terrible (or great, depending on your perspective) acoustics and you can hear conversations from the other side of the building.

So several times a day I have to deliver "the speech:" Sound carries really well in this building, and this is a quiet study area [make sweeping hand gesture to indicate said area], so if you could try to use your inside voice that would be great. Thanks! I say this with a smile. Most people are embarrassed and apologize. They didn't realize they were being so loud. Some get pissy about it, or ignore me, and the second time I ask them to quiet down I'm not as nice. The third time I suggest they go to another building, where they don't have to worry about being quiet.

I suppose I am the right person for this job. Even when I was a student, I had no compunction about asking someone in a computer lab next to me to turn down their headphones. Why should I have to listen to their music? I was also the annoying neighbor who would ask people to turn their music down. I didn't ruin the occasional party or anything like that, but if someone played loud music every day, at all hours of the day, I wasn't shy about getting on them. I once had a neighbor in an apartment building who turned her music up in the middle of the afternoon so loud I couldn't hear my TV. When I pounded on her door, loudly so that she would hear it, and then asked her to turn it down, she asked me not to pound on her door because her baby was sleeping.

So I'm very good at asking people to be quiet, even if I don't like it. What I really hate are those rare occasions when someone brings a baby or toddler into the library. Lots of times the kid is fine. At first. But it's impossible for a child that age to spend any significant time in a library and not have a meltdown. And I cringe whenever it happens. My experience has been that parents of small children are the least understanding about the quiet zone.

One lady told me that she had to kill four hours before her ride came. So she came into the library to use the computers. With her baby. Who eventually started crying. She couldn't go outside, because it was too cold. When I suggested that maybe she go to a computer lab in a different building, she looked at me as if I had told her she should just eat her baby. We hate you breeders, so leave! I understand how hard it can be to raise a child and go to school. Child care is an unrelenting responsibility and I sympathize. This is why I always hate to approach parents with loud children. But this particular lady wasn't studying, she was on her MySpace page. Her response was, "He's just a baby, he doesn't understand." Yes, but you should.

Every year there's a new group of regulars in the library that I have to keep a tight (sound-dampening) lid on. This year it's a bunch of international students who gather at a big table. Especially when there's a lot of them, they get excited and the noise level increases. I've given them "the speech" a dozen times already, and they understand it and try to abide by it. But they forget. It's to the point now that all I have to do is walk past their table and they quiet down. Sometimes all I need to do is look over at them and they will start shushing each other.

When people are clearly just passing through or on their way out, I don't hassle them about the noise. One phenomenon I've noticed is that people always get louder when they take their leave. Saying goodbye always ratchets up the volume. They may get louder, but I know it will be gone soon and I don't stress about it.

But sometimes they linger. They'll be standing there, about to leave, having a loud conversation. They inch toward the door. And talk some more. Even louder. I consider saying something. I wait for the conversation to finish. But it doesn't finish. It keeps going. Every time the cadence of their speech appears to be wrapping up, it starts again.

Finally, I get up from my desk to approach them, and then they leave.

And it's once again quiet and calm in the library.

Order is restored to the universe.

Until the next time I have to get my shush on.

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