I’ve been reviewing the responses I got to my survey (my next post will reveal the results!), and one of the comments prompted me to write this post. The question: What is the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the word librarian? The answer: “Quiet (Sorry, Bonnie, that’s the first word!).” My first thought was, wait, that’s a compliment, right?

I am a quiet person, and it strikes me that I’ve spent quite a bit of time apologizing for it over the course of my life. I’ve always been a quiet person–a quiet child, a quiet teenager, a quiet young adult, and a quiet adult. While my mind is often quite loud and I usually have lots to say, I don’t always choose to say what’s on my mind. I’m usually satisfied with sitting back and listening to others and absorbing what they have to say. But I’m not afraid in the least to speak my mind when necessary. And I thoroughly enjoy a good, quality conversation. I like to encourage others to talk about themselves. What I don’t enjoy as much is competing for attention in a large, loud conversation. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy being part of a loud, rowdy, fun crowd sometimes–I do. But there’s no way that I’m going to ever be heard above the fray in those situations. And that’s fine by me.

My kids are varying degrees of quiet, I think, although I do not know how they are in social situations with their friends and peers. I do know that one memory that still makes me laugh is when one of my children (who shall remain nameless) was in preschool and a group of kids was forming a family to play house. The self-designated head of this house assigned my child the role of family pet saying, “Since you’re so quiet, you can be the dog because dogs can’t talk!” I hope my nameless child (who is probably reading this) is laughing now because I know she/he wasn’t back then. My husband is fundamentally quiet, too. But being quiet doesn’t necessarily mean being introverted, anti-social, or anything else, although it can mean those things.

When I got my first real job after college, I found myself confronted constantly by a colleague (my superior) who was very boisterous and had a  difficult personality. She was prone to loud outbursts and extreme behavior. So she didn’t get me at all, which prompted her to announce (loudly) to the entire office one day that “Bonnie leaves her personality at home when she comes to work.” Ouch. If my 23-year-old self had only possessed the 50-year-old presence of mind that I have today, she would have delighted in saying, “Nope. It’s actually in the car, and I’ll be happy to go get it if you promise to put yours on a bus to Cincinnati.” Ah, hindsight coupled with the wisdom born of years of experience is a beautiful thing.

And then there are the people–probably very kind and well-meaning–who try to bring you “out of your shell.” They make it their personal mission in life to change you in a way that fits their worldview, which is that everyone should be like them. Has anybody ever tried to make a loud-ish person quieter?

I’m not even going to get into the whole library connection–are librarians mostly introverts? Mostly quiet? Mostly solitary beings? It’s easy to generalize based on your own experience, but since I don’t know every librarian around the world, I don’t think I can answer that question.

The thing I don’t get is that quiet people seem to appreciate and accept that there are those in this world who are more garrulous than themselves. But more garrulous people seem to often see it as a personal affront when quiet people are quiet. Or they think that the person is so painfully shy as to be unable or unwilling to express themselves, which may be the case in some instances but far from all. Sometimes chatty people seem to think quiet people are just plain weird. However, it can be a choice to be quiet–a perfectly legitimate choice. And that choice shouldn’t reflect negatively on the person making the choice, the people around them, or the world in general. A person can be gregarious without being garrulous.

I am terrible at telling jokes, so I don’t tell them. I often rush through the telling of a good story or personal anecdote, and as a result, I don’t generate the same kind of buzz that others do when relating a story. I don’t have that knack. I don’t always think quickly on my feet or remember the details of an incident the way some people do–people who can than use those details to engage listeners in a way that I can’t. I admire them and their abilities. I think I’m better at engaging people with my writing, which is just a different way of communicating. I’m quietly grateful to people who talk more than me because that means the pressure is off.

Of course, quiet people are not always quiet. Certain factors can come together to make me more talkative–the right mix of people, the right topic, the right mood, wine…Hey, give me a couple of glasses of chardonnay on a good day, throw in a few of my favorite people, and start a conversation about kids, movies, books, cooking, religion, or politics, and I just might talk you under the table.

I love to talk to people. I am socially able. I can even be “on” sometimes. But mostly I am a quiet person. And there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that.