Don’t Shhh, or The Importance of Eavesdropping in the Library

As I frantically figured out what to write about for this post, one of my students jokingly offered “Well you can talk about how important it is to listen in on all the gossip that goes on in the library.” 

Me, trying to figure out what to write about.


He paled. “I… I was joking?” 

“Nope! It’s happening now!” 

And so it is. Because even though Dominic was joking, I’ve come to appreciate that one of the best tools in our tool boxes as librarians, especially solo librarians, is listening in on our students’ conversations. 

Our library is large and well-used; we have a student population of 535 boys and during the week, we’ll often have over 150 of them in the library at a time. We have study carrels, group work tables, bookcase nooks, comfy chairs, windowsills and the floor, and at our busiest they’ll be sitting on or at all of those. (Or sometimes on each other. That happens, too– does anyone else do a lot of “Every butt needs a chair” reminders?) 

It’s my first time working in an all-boys school but something I learned very quickly is a) they’re hilarious and b) they are all incredible gossips.

And oh, do they love to sit in the library and spill the tea with each other. My students gossip about which kid is bad news; which teacher is a harsh grader; which assemblies they can sleep through. They whisper about how they’re using ChatGPT; who is totally screwed for the physics test tomorrow; which weeks are going to be Hell-Weeks and which ones are going to be “Gimmies.”

Me, being super mature and just sipping normal, non-metaphoric peppermint tea.

Now, in my personal life I am of course a very serious and mature person who has no interest in gossip. But in my professional life, as someone who has to support students on a daily basis in a very rigorous academic environment, gossip is a lifeline. The kid who’s bad news? I can tell his advisor that he might need a bit of love; if I see him in the library doing work I can engage with him and make him feel seen for the work he’s doing to improve. I can cheer on nervous students when they’re up against the harsh grader, and talk to that teacher to see how the library can help support students in their latest assignment. The assemblies with a high sleep-to-awake ratio call for more crowd management, and maybe an email to that presenter offering help with slides if they want it.

Hell-Week Rush? I laugh in the face of a Hell-Week Rush.

My guys are using ChatGPT like a supercharged Google where they ask it for examples of an idea they already have, and adapt accordingly; the Comp Sci Department Chair is thrilled to hear about this and is working it into his presentation at our faculty meeting next week. The physics test means a run on our calculator supply: I should make sure they’re all charged and accounted for. The Hell-Week might mean the library needs to stay open later, or that a period after a big exam will be extra raucous as they celebrate or bemoan their performance; the Gimmies means lots of kids playing board games after school– let’s make sure none of the chess pieces have gone missing. 

The best librarians I’ve worked with were driven by the principle that librarianship is a service profession: we are here to meet and support the needs of our specific communities. Now that I’m a solo, entrusted with the care of a community of my own, it’s more important than ever to be tapped into exactly what those needs are and anticipate them. 

Hence, eavesdropping. 

And the best part is, you can do it, too, with our (un)patented system of GASPS.

  1. Gear: Footwear that doesn’t squeak is key. Get yourself a pair of shoes they won’t hear you walking up on them in (and wait for the teacher sale because who doesn’t like a sale.) The leopard print gives you a +2 to stealth. Live the print. Be the leopard. 
  1. Attitude: A thousand yard stare is helpful; if you make eye contact with students, the game is up. If it seems like eye contact might occur, immediately look at a bookshelf. Students believe that all librarians do is look at books all day; use that.
  1. Speed: Make sure you move slowly and smoothly– student vision is movement based.
  1. Purpose: Remember, you are a librarian looking for information. The information. The information to help your students. The information specially targeted to help your students. The student information. 
  1. Singing/Silence: As I walk, I will occasionally do my own theme music, but it’s kind of a spur of the moment thing– don’t force it if it doesn’t feel right. 
Actual picture of me in the stacks. Note the quiet footwear.

Our role in schools is a special one. As I’m polishing this, 15 minutes before closing on a Friday, the library is full, because an English paper is due at 5 in two separate grades. If I hadn’t listened to what my kids were saying to each other, I would have closed the space early to go to the triple header basketball game that ends Spirit Week. Multiple teachers have come in to say: “Wow, it’s so crowded in here! What’s that about?” 

My students just say: “You’re open? Oh that’s amazing, I’ve got this thing I have to finish and I am so screwed.”

All photos from The Emperor’s New Grove, arguably the best Disney movie of the millennium.

11 thoughts on “Don’t Shhh, or The Importance of Eavesdropping in the Library

  1. Clair,

    I love this! Our reference desk is in the middle of the floor with a bank of computers and the reference books so when I sit there I’m perfectly positioned to hear all the tea. Sometimes my students wonder where the library staff gets all of our good information but to quote Gossip Girl, “well that’s one secret I’ll never tell!”

  2. Genius. Funny, insightful, smart. Agree, a thousand precent and thank you for acknowledging and uplifting something we all do and should do more with a purpose!!

  3. Preach! Thank you for the LOL and you’re right, listening, HEARING, and applying the gossip for good is a superpower we all have and should be intentional in applying. Now, off to shop for those leopard print comfy-stylish-non-squeaky new kicks.

  4. You had me at leopard-print shoes. Plus the Emperor’s New Groove images #bestanimatedmovieever

    This is wonderful. I swear there is a weird physics-based audio channel between a popular seating area and my desk – I can hear EVERYTHING. More than I want. But also so much valuable stuff.

    Thank you, Clair 🙂

  5. It’s also amazing what they’ll say right in front (or behind) you, as though you’re The Invisible Librarian! You’re 100% right about the movement-based sensors. Stay still and you blend right in to the bookshelves.

  6. OMG this made my day – TRUTH. I often tell kids I am not only a librarian, I am secret opps and I know everything and am everywhere. The kids agree. What they don’t realize is we are in one place all day and everyone pivots around us, in and out of the library and what we see, hear and observe – heck we can write a book. Thank you for such an uplifting post! It is Winter at boarding school and well this post came at a good time to put a big smile on my face! Librarians are stealth!

  7. I love everything about this blog! So true and funny and insightful. Also, my two daughters watched the movie in your images (a family favorite) this past weekend… they’re 22 and 24… And, I do love doing my own theme music.

  8. Hahaha!!! I love everything about this post!!! Sometimes I overhear so much that I, literally, tell tables of kids, “There’s no chauffeur shield here. I don’t want to know about this!!!” [Horrified looks] or if they’re spilling the tea about a teacher, “Hey… You know Mr. ____/Ms.____ is one of my best friends outside of school right? [More horrified looks] No, I’m just messing with you, but I DO have friends on campus so keep it real, OK?”

    Thanks for a great start to Monday!

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