Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cell Phones and Civility

Last week a visibly upset patron stopped me and expressed her deep and abiding frustration with cell phones, or more specifically, the way in which some patrons used these devices. What she articulated was a not uncommon phenomenon in libraries. As the nature and uses of libraries have changed, and especially as libraries attract larger numbers of nontraditional patrons drawn by computers, games, programs and other attractions the question of public civility becomes a pertinent and contentious point of discussion. I am not certain that cell phones are the core problem, although they are certainly a visible and justifiable target. (I played baseball on a team where our first baseman had the first few bars of Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida as his ring tone. I always liked that song, until the fifth or sixth time the phone went off during a road trip.)

Not to sound like a curmudgeon, but there seems to be a lack of consideration for others that manifests itself in certain behaviors. Cell phone tones, followed by extended and often personal conversations peppered with expletives and graphic descriptions are clearly obnoxious. Similarly, the folks who stand over the no smoking signs at the library entrance puffing away, the fatigued or unreflective folks who park themselves in front of the book drop, and the group conducting a full throated conversation oblivious to those in adjacent seats trying to read all merit attention and remonstrance.

As this list implies the problem is as much a matter of behavior as of technology. Therefore, we ask cell phone users to hold their conversations in the foyer, the Media Center or outside the library. There is signage making that request in several locations, but experience shows that signage mostly helps staff point out the policy as they address a violation. Few transgressors read the text before the issue is raised with them. As for the other forms of inconsiderate or anti-social behavior, we could post multiple bill boards inveigning against smoking, cussing, drinking and chewing, but the results would be homely. What we will do is point out the violations as they occur, refer to the copies of the behavior policies posted in multiple locations, ask for cooperation, remove the recalcitrant, and maintain a belief in the long term efficacy of behavior modification.