Dear Abby Sides with Missouri Librarian

Sarah writes "A public library patron in Springfield, MO, became loud and belligerent when a librarian refused to help him. The problem? He was speaking to someone else on the cell phone at the time. Dear Abby agrees with her in today's column (about halfway down the page) : 'The librarian was within her rights to take the next person in line if the one in front of her was preoccupied. And if the man was belligerent and intimidating, she was also within her rights to have a security guard escort him out.'"


I find it extremely frustrating that libraries and cashiers and other customer service desks are having to put up signs that say "no cell phone use at the counter". Shouldn't that be a given?

And is it only the cell phone generation for whom it doesn't seem to be intuitive that cell phone conversations of the library are bad form? I don't see it with older (30+) patrons, but we don't have that many older patrons in my library.

The biggest troublemakers with mobile phones I know of tend to be business men (young-ish middle age group) who think the world ought to revolve around their money.

I'm not so certain about the windows: a friend of mine lives in an old train station which is covered with a tin roof. You cannot get a signal on your mobile inside the house without nearly leaning out the window.

And Superman will still have someplace to change clothes!


You're correct; I was wrong. I was misremembering an article about potential lawsuits which I can now no longer find. As a recall -- and clearly my memory on the topic is not that good -- the author was questioning how long passive jamming would remain illegal. But since I can't find the article, I don't know from what basis that questioning came. Mea culpa. that I don't think the person was a librarian and that misperception is hardly ever, ever corrected!

I agree and on the Reference Desk I would do this. However, I assume that this whole thing took place at a circulation desk - that is the only place we would really ever have a "line" such as seems to be described in this case. I will stress again, that the person working at circ, if it was, was NOT a Librarian and no one has corrected this yet again.

I personally really do not think that is the solution.

I'm the head reference librarian at a medium sized public university (17,000+ students). Before my current job, I did a stint at a neighboring public library for 13 years as a clerk and then later as a librarian. With all due respect, why should it matter whether the person was a clerk or a librarian? Aren't all library employees entitled to the same level of respect and common courtesy?

By the way, in my 18 years of working in reference departments, I've seen PLENTY of lines at the reference desk.

Why does it matter whether the staff member involved was a librarian or a library clerk? Does it affect the courtesy issue in the slightest? Would a library clerk, but not the librarian, be obliged to take the cell phone user first? Would the cell phone user be entitled to verbally abuse and intimidate the library clerk, but not the librarian?

You don't know that the person involved wasn't a librarian--your assumption that it was at the circulation desk and not the reference desk is without real foundation, and even if it was the circulation desk, in many libraries every staff member spends some time on the circulation desk.It's also irrelevant to the question Dear Abby was addressing--the courtesy issue, and the fact that the patron verbally abused and intimidated the staff member. Regardless of her professional/non-professional status, she clearly did the right thing, and he was clearly, unambiguously in the wrong.

No, it doesn't matter to THIS particular case, except it is just another example that really annoys me of people NOT knowing the difference between the professionals and the non-professionals and who works in the library and what jobs they do, etc....

I think we just need better design functions, and some social training.If there were an easy way to hold your place in line while you engage in a conversation, I think that people might adopt that. Instead if you're out of line, you're often at the back - which of course the people will object to.Design-wise, I'd like to see the return of phone booths. A nice place to stand/sit, screened off aurally from other people. With or without a land-line for coinage/phone cards.-- Ender, Duke_of_URL

There's no law that regulates shielding against radio signals. Quote found at ation.asp?article_type=tech&article_path=/technolo gy/tech041226.htm

When I worked at a large public library I also took the next person in line if the one in front was in the middle of a cell phone conversation. People sometimes got mad when I'd nicely say, "I'll help you when you finish your call," but no one ever complained about me to the higher-ups. How on earth can we conduct a reference interview with someone while they're deep in conversation with someone else? If they were talking to someone that they walked up with, they (normally) wouldn't ask us a question while deep in conversation with them.
Okay, I'll quit ranting now and go take a breather outside. :-)

I saw it with people up into their forties at my library. You would think they'd know better....

The USA/Canada model is interesting, since use of a cell phone jammer is (IIRC) flat-out illegal in the U.S. and, I suspect, Canada. Since emergency services use the same frequencies as cell phones, there's a good reason for the prohibition.

When I worked retail people were always talking on their cell phones when I was cashiering--all ages, all genders. It's very frustrating to be treated as if you are some sort of non-person like that. I heard of some cashiers (not me!) who would deliberately ring stuff up twice to see if the cell phone talker would catch it. I guess we could try checking out random books to cell phone users (How to Win Friends and Influence People? Etiquette for Dummies?).

Do the signs deter anyone? Not at my library they don't. My last visit I was the captive audience of a cell conversation involving casseroles (the yak-ee was in her early 60s).

Totally off topic here, but I'm waiting for the day that the cashiers are too busy with their fascinating cell phone conversations that they can't be bothered to ring me up. Already it's tough enough to tear them away from their deep conversations with their co-workers. And never mind "Thank you, have a nice day." Or eye contact.

Not to continue the off-topic-ness, but I was employee of the month a few times and got all sorts of bonuses just because I showed up and did my job in a moderately polite fashion. Retail has very low expectations of their workers. Then again, you only earn $7 an hour! Makes librarian salaries seem like winning the lottery.

In fact, in the US it's also illegal for a private building to intentionally block cell phone coverage by any means, including architectural (eg building a theatre as a big old faraday cage). Interfering with the public airwaves and whatnot.

This is one of the rare points of public policiy on which I will admit I am too ignorant to have a useful opinion. :)

I think you are right on the other types of jamming you mention but do you have a source that backs up your assertion that it is illegal to block cell phones via architecural means?

Article in Slate that suggest that passive jamming is legal (architecural) but that active jamming is illegal.
Brief section of article below, use link above for complete article.
In the United States, actively jamming a cell-phone signal is illegal. The FCC, which is the government agency in charge of regulating the airwaves, has established severe penalties for doing so. If you're caught at your local restaurant with the SH066PL2A/B, it's possible you could face an $11,000 fine and a one-year jail term. Possible, but apparently highly unlikely. It seems that the FCC has never charged anyone with this crime, even though the American market is one of the most important when it comes to selling cell-phone jamming equipment. One distributor (who wished to remain anonymous) told me they've exported approximately 300 jammers to the United States this year, more than to any other country. The exporter claims that buyers include restaurants, schools (including some universities, which have installed the technology to stop students from wirelessly diddling away on their phones during lectures), and personal users.

According to the FCC, cell-phone jammers should remain illegal. Since commercial enterprises have purchased the rights to the spectrum, the argument goes, jamming their signals is a kind of property theft. But there are countries with less draconian rules. France, for instance, seems to turn a blind eye to the active use of cell-phone jammers in movie theaters, and countries such as China, Russia, and Israel either permit use of these technologies, or are very lax when it comes to enforcing restrictions.

Americans seeking a legal way to jam cell phones can look into "passive" jamming technologies. For instance, lining your office in lead should ensure that no signals get in or out. But if lead is too industrial to suit your décor, a more genteel alternative exists: You could install "magnetic wood" paneling throughout. A Japanese scientist, Hideo Oka, has invented a new kind of building material, saturated with magnetic particles made of nickel-zinc ferrite that supposedly deflect 97 percent of mobile-phone signals.

The real issue here is not about if the individual was a librarian or rather or not the "librarian" was within their rights to take the next person in line, it is that there is a total disregard for what is acceptable in a library or in everyday society even. We have a no ring and no talking on cell phone policy at our library. The phones must be on vibrate and you may not talk on your phone in the library. How do we enforce? It is really easy; we ask them to walk outside. No one has ever refused and if they did I would then just ask them to leave - period. It is disruptive, rude and socially unacceptable. No one should ever be on their phone and try to interact with someone else at the same time. That is just good manners.