Posted by: | September 16, 2019

Quiet, an introvert’s tale

In a world where an outgoing disposition is a prized virtue, it was impactful to read Susan Cain’s (2012) book on the power of introverts. I have spent decades believing there was something inherently wrong with me. “Why can’t I think on my feet?” “Why am I so terrible at small talk?” “Why don’t I just speak up?” “Why can’t I be more of a “take charge” kind of person?” It turns out there is one answer to all the whys:  I am 100% an introvert. It’s not that I didn’t know I was an introvert, but before reading this book, I just thought it meant I was shy. What I never realized was that everything I thought was wrong with me was part and parcel of being an introvert. I thought all those “whys” amounted to bugs in my software. Turns out everything I thought was a bug was really a feature. However, it’s no wonder that I thought I had a problem. According to Cain, in the Western world the extrovert is the ideal. By default then, everything else is less than ideal.

If you ever wanted proof that the world favors extroverts, look no further than a thesaurus. Here are some of the synonyms for “introvert”: hermit, recluse, loner, withdrawn, and shrinking violet. Synonyms for “extrovert” on the other hand, are words like gregarious, friendly, social, livewire, and outgoing. Just based on the words alone, who would want to be in the introvert camp? Well, I would.

Cain (2012) provides a great deal of research indicating that introversion and extroversion are really just “preferences for certain levels of stimulation” (p.124). Unsurprisingly, extroverts prefer more stimulation than introverts. Extroverts function best when engaged in activities like team-building exercises or chairing meetings. Conversely, introverts would rather close the door to their office and work in solitude. Quiet intellectual activity is an optimal level of stimulation for them (p.122).

As libraries continue to shift and evolve adding cafes, makerspaces, game labs, and whatnot, will there still be a place for the introverts? In her article “Library as Infrastructure”, Shannon Mattern (2014) notes that libraries are “ designing for, rather than designing out — activities that make noise and can occasionally be a bit messy.”  She does acknowledge however, that with all these activities comes the need for library spaces to incorporate lighting, furniture, and acoustical designs to “accommodate multiple sensory registers, modes of working, postures and more.” In his article “Unquiet Library has High-Schoolers Geeked”, Brian Matthews (2010) notes the vibrant Creekview High School library has created quieter zones where students can reflect, lounge, or just talk. Meanwhile, places such as Delft’s public library, DOK appear to be all about activity and interaction. While DOK sounds like such an amazing place, even to an introvert like me, I can’t help but wonder if I would hang out there. I think as we examine participation in libraries, we as librarians need to stay aware that participation may mean different things to different people. We must ask ourselves how we will meet those needs.


Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York, NY: Crown Publishers

Matthews, B. (2010). Unquiet library has high-schoolers geeked. American Libraries. Retrieved from

Mattern, S. (2014). Library as infrastructure. Places Journal. Retrieved from

Visser, J. (2011, January 22). DOK Delft, inspirational library concepts. Retrieved from


  1. Hi Christine,

    Great post! “Quiet” is on my personal reading list, so I really liked how you highlighted the main points of the book. When I first saw “Quiet” on the context book reading list, I thought, “How does introversion relate to participatory libraries?!” Your post made it make more sense. 🙂

    The library that I work at in Colorado is a very 21st Century, “participatory” library. However, I remember when I first brought my mother there, who is an introvert, she seemed overwhelmed. And of course, I was like, “Look, mom, there’s a space where you can make crafts with other people, you can take classes, you can use the computer lab, there’s even a cricut machine!” I wanted so badly for her to “participate” in the library the way in which it was designed for people to participate. But, her being very introverted, she said, “Well, it’s a bit overwhelming. Is there a quiet corner where I can just sit and read?”

    So, I think that it’s really important for libraries, as they become more and more participatory, to not exclude people who want to participate in “introverted” ways. For many people, like my mom, the library is a space to “be alone with others.” And that is indeed a type of participation.

    • Hi Melina,

      Thank you for your comments 🙂

      I loved what you said about libraries not excluding people who want to participate in “introverted” ways. I have to admit, until I read “Quiet” I would have never made the distinction between “extroverted” and “introverted” ways of participating – and it’s an important distinction to make.

  2. Hi Christine!
    I really liked your overview and observations in relation to “Quiet.” Your post definitely piqued my interest in the book and I’m looking forward to reading it myself. The remark about extroverts being the ideal temperament in the western world makes sense to me. A good friend observed that I may be an introvert and for some reason, I didn’t think of it positively straight away. I wasn’t too informed about extroverts and introverts, so I was reacting on instinct. Now, that I’ve read more about it, I know that the world makes a balanced, more interesting place with both temperaments. 🙂

    • Hi Esther,

      I concur with your observation that the world is a more balanced and interesting place with both temperaments represented 🙂 I think you should read the book sometime, especially if you think you might be an introvert. Introverts tend to be underrated, but they bring a lot to the table. It was refreshing to read that.

      Also, Cain’s books is filled with research on how extroverts became the ideal and about the difference between introverts and extroverts psychologically, but also biologically. She also shares stories about great and well known people who were introverts at heart.

  3. I really liked the point you made at the end about participatory services and introversion. I had not really thought about it in that way, the need to have all types of spaces so different people, in this case introverts and extroverts, can find a comfortable place. Your review made me want to read this book, I have known about it for years. For many people I present as an extrovert, like at work, but I love to go home to a quiet house and shut the door to my room. If I am around people 24/7 I get a little batty, especially when work is so “social”. It sounds like you fee that way too 🙂

    • Hi Cristin Marie!

      I absolutely feel the same way as you. When I get home from work I need to have quiet time – or at least minimal interaction (like watching TV).

  4. Hi Christine,

    I read “Quiet” a few years ago and loved it. I too have always felt there was something wrong with me because I have a hard time knowing what to say to people (especially strangers) and I always feel awkward at social gatherings. Great point about participation meaning different things to different people. I used to think that libraries were where all the introverts hung out. Now, it might be where the extroverts go to socialize!

    • Hi Sharon,

      Not knowing what to say to strangers and feeling awkward at social gatherings is something I experience too.

      Loved your point that libraries used to be for introverts but now might be where extroverts go to socialize. Well said!

  5. Great post, Christine! Like Sharon, I read Quiet a few years ago (for INFO 200–I’ve really been dragging my feet through this degree…). The context book I read (Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal) was published the year before Cain’s famous defense of the introvert, and I definitely detected a pervasive pro-extroverted bent to McGonigal’s argument that we needed to be as social as possible in how we incorporated gameplay and game-like interactions into our lives. (One bit in particular that jumped out to me as something that I think Cain might have found counterarguments for: “Why is it a good thing for introverts to be open to more social interaction, and to find shared experiences more rewarding? In study after study, positive-psychology researchers have shown that extroversion is highly correlated with greater happiness and life satisfaction.” McGonigal goes on to explain that it’s more correlated with the way life in our social world is easier for extroverted people, but I still detected a pro-extroverted bias…)

    • Hi Tori,

      Based on what you shared with me about McGonigal’s book, I would have to agree with you that it seems to have a pro-extrovert bias. What I appreciated about Cain’s book is the argument that introverts are not “broken” people. They’re just built differently. Also, as you well know, being quiet does not necessarily equal being sad.

  6. What a great overview! You made some really interesting points, and I have to say I’m in firm agreement with the other commenters who spoke about ensuring that libraries have places for both extroverts and introverts to feel comfortable in. Having a space that feels welcoming to everyone should be a goal libraries are pursuing!

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for your comments!

  7. Hi Christine,

    I loved reading your take on Quiet. This was a book that my mom recommended to me years ago and I honestly do not regret reading it.

    I have also taken quite a few personality tests and gotten INFJ (leaning particularly towards the introverted side of things). I actually enjoyed it because it really did feel like someone understood me because I was always being told to socialize. I have had moments where I literally ran out of a building because it felt too claustrophobic and there were far too many people at the time. My favorite thing to do was returning home, burrito blanketing myself, and relaxing away from the world. I actually never thought there was something wrong with me for not being a ‘people person’ so to speak. But, it’s always been something seen as less socially advantageous to not be the first to speak. It was a fresh take on how we view personability to be honest.

    I loved your inclusion of the definitions of extrovert and introvert. I also liked how you phrased your question on which would you choose? According to everything I was grew up hearing, I should have been attracted to the definitions of extroverted personalities but that was never me.

    I honestly did all my studying back in undergrad in my own room because there were far too many people at the library that made it hard for me to work comfortably.

    I loved how you highlighted the points that Cain made regarding research on how extroverts and introverts react and that it’s really about the degree or level/intensity of the stimuli.

    It is wonderful knowing that libraries such as Creekview High School library have created their quiet zones. I would like to see more areas like this.

    I also wanted to say that I agree with your statement that participation can have a diverse range of meanings to people. I think librarianship is really all about trying to have programs and services for all kinds of people as communities they are serving are evolving and becoming more diverse as time goes on.

    • Hi Tiffany,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Skip to toolbar