Shushing the Ringtones
What should libraries do about cellular telephones? Last month a California public library made splashy headlines by setting fines for up to $1,000 against repeated cell phone users. Other libraries are even planning to block signals by using a signal jammer. Are such procedures necessary to handle cell phone abuse in libraries?
Many library "User Responsibilities" policies already cover rules against creating disturbances. A device-specific rule (are walkie-talkies okay?) without exceptions (would you tell the copier repair team or the gas leak inspector to hang up?) or clarifications (many libraries say "turn off phones" when in fact "set ringers to vibrate" would be acceptable) seems overkill. Banning or assessing fines against chronically rude policy violators, however, seems quite justified.
Cell signal detectors and jammers (or even building materials that block signals) are finding a market (among churches, finer restaurants and theaters, and possibly hotels), although the latter are illegal in the United States. Yes, cell phones are annoying and can create road hazards, but banning or blocking these signals can cost lives. It's that simple. How would you feel if your doctor's phone or pager was set to vibrate but was blocked by a library during an emergency? Moreover, in the days of library coffee shops, group study rooms, information commons areas and other communal spaces in libraries, are these measures warranted?