Radical Suggestion For Eliminating Cell Phone Abusers In Research Libraries

I think most academic librarians will feel Scott McLemee’s pain when they read his latest essay about cell phone abusers. Is there a librarian among us who hasn’t been disturbed by the lack of respect that cell phone abusers show for their fellow library users – or had to take complaints from those who still believe the library is one place on campus that should be reserved for quiet study. Sure, all of our libraries have the standard noisy and quite zones – and we don’t want to play noise cop – but cell phones are going off all over the place. McLemee writes:

Wandering the stacks, they babble away in a blithe and full-throated matter -– conversing, not with their imaginary friends (as did the occasional library-haunting weirdo of yesteryear) but rather with someone who is evidently named “Dude,” and who might, for all one knows, be roaming elsewhere in the building: an audible menace to all serious thought and scholarly endeavor. This situation is intolerable. It must not continue.

His solution? Just shoot them. Bullets are nice, but even a taser would do. I’m sure a few of us have even fantasized about just strangling these folks when their ringtones start blaring away. But even McLemee knows we can’t let our cell phone rage lead us to uncivilized responses to uncivilized behavior. But he does give us some hope. After all, we’re not the first generation to deal with forms of public rudeness. How has society overcome past transgressions of this sort? Read the essay to learn more, and the next time a cell phone goes off it might just help you control yourself.

10 thoughts on “Radical Suggestion For Eliminating Cell Phone Abusers In Research Libraries”

  1. I understand the frustration that librarians have with cell phone use in libraries. But instead of being frustrated by it, we should try to harness the technology. Many of the newer cell phones come with Ipod capabilities. Perhaps we should podcast our information literacy sessions or make our music or video collections available via podcast.

  2. I am not quite ready to shoot them, but I do think we should really be willing to do a little policing if need be. While I understand that some people can’t seem to live without the cellphone (or other portable device), disrupting others should not acceptable no matter what the technology evangelists think. If it means telling people to take their conversations outside so be it. While I understand libraries have their sections where people can talk and converse, there is also the expectation by some to have some peace and quiet to get some actual studying done. Just a thought.

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  3. I’ve witnessed students using cell phones productively. A student getting help from a friend on an Excel formula. Two members of a group talking to a third, reviewing their PowerPoint presentation. A student experiencing registration problems and phoning her advisor.

    Academic libraries are not quiet places anymore—at least on some floors. I think we just need to remember that the building is for them, not us.

  4. Michael – I’m all for leveraging technology to help students achieve learning outcomes – which includes information literacy – and those you mention certainly have some potential. But the real problem isn’t students LISTENING to recordings – it’s when they TALK incessantly on cell phones and disturb everyone in the immediate vicinity. For some reason when we’re on cellphones we think we have to speak much louder for the person on the other end to hear what we’re saying – until they finally say “I can hear you now.” Podcasted IL sessions? It’s a possibility, but I’m not sure I’d want to listen to one of my own. I have given some thought to recorded research tips – maybe they are 2 or 3 minutes at most. Thanks for your comment!

  5. Brian – I don’t doubt some of the cell phone use is productive. Heck, calling a faculty member to find out about an assignment is good too. The point about the building being “theirs” is a good one – but “they” are the ones doing the majority of the complaining. Other students don’t seem to care if another student’s conversation is academically productive or just shooting the s**t with another person. They want quiet! and it’s their building too. So how do we keep them from wanting to do harm to each other? So far quiet and noise zones – along with student policing of each other – seems to work best.

  6. Wait a minute! Uncivilized responses to uncivilized behavior is our national policy. Why shouldn’t it be our library policy, too? I prefer the stun gun over the taser. The stun gun requires the same proximity as a reference interview.

  7. What gets me most is the students who will ask for something at the reference desk while on the phone (or who will answer their phones while you are helping them). I like to stop what I’m doing and stare at them. It usually motivates them to end the conversation.

  8. The issue isn’t the device, it’s the rudeness of user. I have seen many people speak quietly into a cell phone, have the phone on vibrate mode so there is no distracting ring, and use the phones in a productive manner (such as texting Google’s googl service for reference information- a service in direct competition with the refernce desk- see http://www.google.com/sms/ ). Wanting to shoot rude cell phone users (understandably tongue in cheek) is the same as wanting to ban all gum chewing because a few chew gum irresponsibly, or chop the arms of all ink pen holders because of graffiti. I agree students can police the loud and rude library patrons (some are cell phone users, others aren’t) within designated quiet and noise zones. On the other hand, I am concerned by this aversion to cell phones by so many librarians (and these devices are getting smarter all the time and are THE digital device, I believe, of the future). I think we’d be wise to examine how cell phones are being used as information gathering tools rather than focusing on the few rascals who are rude with phones (and probably rude without them as well).

  9. Not just academic libraries–public libraries too. Oh man, the stories I could tell. John is absolutely right–it’s not the device, it’s the rudeness of the user. And Michael is also correct. The fact that cell phones are so very prevalent (the crazy rude use we experience being a symptom of that) should tell us “here is an opportunity for a new service.” While SMS (text messaging) reference is still in its infancy, I do believe we will see it take off in the next few years as more people, adults and kids, rely on their cell phones for everything from web surfing to gaming (oh yes, and telephoning as well) 😉

  10. I think a lot of it is part and parcel with society as a whole. I spend a good portion of time telling people to turn their cell phones off and I don’t think it makes that much of a difference. It is part of my job, so I do what I have to, but in the end people don’t read the signs and do not believe that policies apply to them. After 8 1/2 years of doing this, the tasers sound more appealing, but I know that in the end, that is not a realistic notion. Maybe sometime we can get to a point where people turn their ringers to vibrate and talk in low tones, but I don’t think things will get any better than that.

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