Answering the Cell Phone Question

I just finished the Talk Back Column entitled The Cell Phone Police by Leah L. White (p. 36) of the May 1, 2009 Library Journal.

Our library's cell phone policy is somewhat in flux at the current time, with a pending change in directors. We have sought, throughout the changes in administration to take a customer service, rather than a phone police perspective.

We find that there are two issues in the cell phone question. The first is the many loud and varied ringtones. We ask that patrons who enter the library put their phone on manner mode, while they are in the library.

We don't police this in a hard manner. If someone is persistant in receiving calls, we invite them to use one of our study rooms to take their calls. This works rather well in helping to remind people that they can go to the study rooms to receive calls.

We ask patrons to step into the hall way or study room, as well when engaging in long conversations. We spin the issue by saying that it is as much for their privacy as it is a matter of good manners. We are concerned with quiet, but we are more concerned with best serving our whole population.

Quiet, manners, privacy and customer service are all equally important in our eyes.

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I will be very blunt on this issue. Libraries (i.e., librarians) are being gutless with respect to their core purpose of providing equal access to knowledge, when they blatantly enable cell phone use within earshot of anybody else trying to access that knowledge. Deep down we all know that it simply is wrong to make noise in the user configuration of learning. The problem is not the lack of an answer to the problem, but enforcing the right answer consistently, which is to absolutely forbid cell phone users from disturbing quiet users. The cell phone bullies should NOT be allowed to rule. Period.

The people who are theorizing or conceptualizing about melding new technology with the traditional library concept are misapplying arguments and misrepresenting arguments as bystanders more removed than actual library patrons who have to endure the unpredictable and sometimes incessant interruptions of cell phone bullies.

The real problem is the wrongful redefinition of what a library is. There is a confusion of cross purposes -- trying to serve too many different groups of people in the same facility that is NOT architecturally designed and partitioned adequately to serve all those different groups. Consequently, the group with the deepest core values and respect for libraries is getting abused.

This is tragic for our civilization. I say TAKE BACK THE QUIET !

Robert Kernodle