Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cell phones redux

The terrific online comic strip Unshelved hit library cell phone use last week:
Used by permission.
After a spirited discussion at last May's Library Board meeting, our Board upheld staff practices of maintaining our second floor (reference, nonfiction, public Internet) as a cell phone-free zone, while allowing cell phone use on the first floor (circulation, children's, periodicals, media, fiction) and lower level (meeting rooms). This seemed like a workable arrangement -- and a reasonable compromise between those who feel they can use their cell phone any where and those who feel no one should be allowed to use cell phones in the library.

Our practice acknowledges that cell phones are part of people's lives, even at the library, but also that some library users have an expectation of being able to read or study undisturbed. It doesn't eliminate enforcement problems -- there are always some inconsiderate people like the guy in the strip -- but it does manage the situation responsibly. The Board asked us to further study the situation and report back in November. Our Assistant Director, Barb Kelly, presented the following at yesterday's Board meeting.
  • Most staff feel that we have found a good balance between the needs of people with cell phones and the needs of others for quiet. Staff did express concern that there were some good reasons why people might need to use a cell phone on the second floor – mostly having to do with the public access computers there and the possibility that someone working on one might need to consult work or school, etc. The sign expressing the rules for the computer lab includes language that allows staff to make exceptions in such cases. Very few exceptions have been requested or made.
  • We considered whether there might be space on the first floor that could be made off-limits for cell phones. It is our opinion that this would be very difficult to do, and would not accomplish the desired results of creating a quiet area on that floor. There are really no areas on the first floor that are isolated from the main spaces, and it would be very difficult for staff to enforce any such rules.
  • In our recent surveys, 4 people out of 320 results from the in-house survey, and 3 out of 141 online surveys indicated they wished cell phones be banned. That is not a very high percentage, especially given the publicity around the issue.
  • We did feel that our signs could be improved. They were all just a little different, having been created at different times. We re-did all of them using the same colors, fonts, graphics, etc. but mainly retaining the language we were using. We have added a sign in the elevator, as some people who never used the stairs did not see the signs there. And we also put signs in the restrooms on the second floor, as people fail to realize how much their voices carry.
  • We laminated all of the new signs so that they would hold up better and not become shabby as quickly. We will replace them in the event are defaced or worn.
  • Generally, the language on the signs becomes more specific and stronger in tone as one moves from the first floor to the second where cell phone use is prohibited. The sign at the front door is meant to inform people of our rules. The signs in the stairway and elevator instruct people to take action to turn off or silence phones. The signs on the second floor are firm about the rule.
We feel, as you concluded at the May meeting, that this is more of a cell phone user behavior issue than a cell phone issue. We think current practice is properly addressing the concerns.
I appreciate the thoughtful work by Barb and other staff on this issue. Board members had one suggestion: add other languages to the signs. Good idea -- we're on it!

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