Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cell phones: the wikiality

A couple years ago, Library Journal asked a tough question for library policy makes: "Ultimately, how do we draw a principled line between phones and computers?" We're still wrestling with how to answer it.

I've just edited the LISwiki article on cell phones in libraries, which previously read:

Many libraries forbid the use of cell phones as part of their general user responsibilities policy.

As with the practice of having coffee shops in libraries, this rule can elicit strong responses from librarians about the purpose of a library building. In 2004, the Huntington Beach (CA) public library announced a fee structure of up to $1000 for using a mobile phone within the library.[1] Other librarians have proposed blocking cell phone signals, a practice which is illegal in the United States, as a way to quell the use of cell phones against library policy by problem patrons.

In an Unshelved strip, a character uses a walkie-talkie to get around the library's "no cell phones" rule.

Some libraries have special designated areas where people can be directed to if they insist on using their cell phones.

Given that my informal poll of public libraries show that most allow reasonable use of cell phones, I thought this rather too one-sided. Many other sources cite the way that cell phones are becoming integrated into our communications, our commerce and our lives. It seems simplistic to draw a line on the technology when the real concern is noise and behavior. After my edits, the article now reads:

Many libraries forbid the use of cell phones as part of their general user responsibilities policy. Others permit cell phones in designated areas, and prohibit them elsewhere. Many libraries have no rules against cell phone use per se, but seek to deal only with behaviorial issues creating excessive noise, including ringing and loud conversations.

The problem and response can vary widely depending on the type of library, physical design and community expectations. A high school media center, the reading room in the Library of Congress, the reference area of a research library, and the children's and young adult areas of a high traffic public library may be seen as different environments in this context. Some libraries may elect to treat any and all use of a cell phone as problem patron behavior, while others treat only the noise issue.

As with the practice of having coffee shops in libraries, these rules can elicit strong responses from librarians about the purpose of a library building. In 2004, the Huntington Beach (CA) public library announced a fee structure of up to $1000 for using a mobile phone within the library.[1] Other librarians have proposed blocking cell phone signals, a practice which is illegal in the United States, as a way to quell the use of cell phones against library policy by problem patrons.

In an Unshelved strip, a character uses a walkie-talkie to get around the library's "no cell phones" rule.

What'd I miss? Of course, you can go change it back :-)

I really like quiet study areas in libraries -- but I don't want to pay a $1,000 fine for silently checking my email. Since I email on my Treo PDA phone, I could get that fine in the Huntington Beach, CA library. The library in nearby Glendale, CA has a more sophisticated response based on behavior: "Library users who are bothered by noise made by other users, including cell phone use, should not hesitate to inform staff or a security guard, who will enforce our rules".

What do you think?

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