Academic journal article Liminalities

Shush: A Creative (Re)Construction

Academic journal article Liminalities

Shush: A Creative (Re)Construction

Article excerpt

How can any lover of freedom and the human spirit find tolerable that goddamn insulting, repressive hiss directed at them? That sound! As if a face had just been punctured. As if an elephant had just raised his leg and let go. Is anything more disruptive of silence than that abrupt and isolated sound? Is anything more totalitarian than an order not to express one's self? (Plotnick 7)

I'll do the shushing around here . . . shushing is the job of the librarian. (The Neverending Story III: Escape to Fantasia)

July 1, 2011

It's my first day at my new job. As I begin to go through my predecessor's office to prepare for moving my things into the space, I find a number of small gifts hidden in various places. In a desk filing drawer, I find a small claw-toothed hammer that, viewed on its side, immediately calls to mind the rock hammer with which Andy Dufresne escaped from Shawshank Prison. In this drawer I also find a brand-new flashlight in its unopened plastic case, complete with batteries (best used by February 2004), and an unopened package of cleaning wipes. Maybe my predecessor is trying to tell me something-perhaps she, like Andy Dufresne before her, has been secretly tunneling an escape route in her spare time. These goodies could be her escape supply kit-'after all, one needs to be able to see where one is tunneling, and one wants to be able to clean up after the dirty task.

In another filing drawer, I find a greeting card and two bottles of booze. Score! Yet another drawer contains an old, wooden centimeter ruler that has generously been bequeathed to me. (It is used for measuring the heights of books so as to be able to include the correct dimensions in catalog records.) But the big prize is tucked away in yet another drawer. 'Wrapped carefully, in a sealed plastic baggie, is the holy grail of librarian décor . . . the Librarian Action Figure, with "Amazing push-button Shushing Action!"1

The action figure, all five inches of hard plastic glory, is modeled on Nancy Pearl from the Seattle Public Library. Push a button on the back and she shushes into action. Too bad it actually looks more like she's picking her nose than shushing an unruly library patron (not to mention, said unruly patron is nowhere to be found). And where is the audio? 'Without an accompanying shush sound, it feels more like a librarian passive figure than a librarian action figure. Maybe I'm supposed to provide my own accompanying shush?

September 2016

Although I didn't know it at the time, the librarian action figure had sparked great debate amongst librarians when it first came to market in 2003. On one side were librarians who railed against the injustice of the negative stereotype the action figure represented.2 On the other side were librarians who thought the action figure was a wink and a nod to the old stereotype, representing the librarian image of the past (Broom, "Not All"), and who, like Nancy Pearl, had "a sense of humor" about the cliché (Broom, "Toymaker"). Seattle Times readers even got involved, with some wondering why toymaker Archie McPhee would focus on a negative stereotype like shushing since "silence stops communication, which, after all, is what being a librarian is all about" (Broom, "Not All").

That librarian action figure has sat on my desk for the last six years, joined by a few other tchotchkes gifted to me along the way. Off and on, as I've observed and participated in discussions about other issues in libraries related to perception,3 I've thought about what that toy communicates and what questions it raises for me. ~Why do we shush? Is a silent shush still a shush? Does a shush function the same in all types of libraries and for all types of patrons? Are some shushes worse than others? Can a shush be censorial? ~What are expected, or reasonable, responses to being shushed? Can you "one-up" a shush? Should librarians be expected to denounce the shush entirely? ~When is a shush just a shush, and when is it an act of silencing? …

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