Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Courtesy matters

I am in the process of subduing my blog subscriptions after not reading any of them for almost a month. I was struck by how much of a curmudgeon I must seem sometimes.

You know how Michael Stephens at Tame the Web puts up pictures of really unfortunate signage?

I was catching up on his blog when I came to an unfortunate sign about cell phone usage and I started thinking. And when I started thinking, that's when the curmudgeony-ness kicked in.

Why is it wrong to ask people to restrict their cell phone usage to certain parts of the library. I understand that allowing people to text message or call the reference desk from the stacks makes us more accessible to users. And I get the if you have an iPhone that you want to be able to play games or read blogs or find the catalog. But what's wrong with asking people, for example, not to talk on the phone in certain areas of the library? Or with asking people to turn off the sound on their phones or, alternately, to use earbuds/earphones.

I feel like Andy Rooney when I start talking about what bothers me. I need you to know that I'm not some techno-phobic luddite who doesn't own a cell phone. I own a cell phone and an iPod and I use them both in public places. But I do my best to put my phone on vibrate if I'm in a place where I know it would bother people if my phone went off--the theater, restaurants, church and, yes, the library.

I understand that signage should be appropriate when dealing with these concerns. Libraries look user-unfriendly if they post signs that are mean-spirited or condescending to users. Libraries should be respectful when making requests of their users and offer them the opportunity to prove their trustworthiness. As a library, I should believe that you can play with your iPod or PSP without being a distraction to others and should encourage you to do so. But what's so wrong with asking that you do those things without bothering the person sitting next to you by "cranking it 11" when you play?

So...tell me, because I'm genuinely curious. What's so wrong with putting up appropriate signage about moving your telephone conversations to a designated place in the library? And what's wrong with asking people to be courteous when using their portable devices in public?

Erin, curmudgeon


Shana said...

You're not being curmudgeonly. Really. It's called common courtesy. The same way I get irritated at people that won't get off their phone when they deal with people at service counters like the deli at a grocery store. It's just rude.

It's a library. We must serve all our users. And some of our users expect quiet space. So having designated areas respects their needs while acknowledging the needs of those that want to talk on their phone is not unreasonable.

But, please, for the love of pete, use appropriate and respectful sinage to designate the spaces. Clear, respectful, friendly signs should be the norm.

Kate said...

My take on the TTW photos (which I enjoy) is that he's anti-NEGATIVE-signage. If there's a positive way to say it, use that. Here, we say "No" so often, I try to say "Do this" whenever possible. I think our signs ask people to turn off ringers, rather than saying "don't let your phone ring". it's a slant thing more than a content thing. I don't think there's anything wrong with designating zones for behavior.

Kat with a K said...

I agree with you. I was somewhere (not a library) the other day that had a sign that said customers talking on cell phones while AT the register would be bypassed for the next customer until they were off the phone, and I thought that was great.