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How Should Public Libraries Handle Cell Phone Usage?

by on January 7, 2013

One of my biggest pet peeves is people having cell phone conversations in public places… especially where people are in a smaller confined space, like a supermarket or the gym.  To me, using your cell phone to have a conversation in a public space shows a complete disregard for the people around you. Unfortunately, cell phone use has permeated public libraries.

Adults, in my experience, are the most frequent abusers of cell phones in the library. I have seen adults move from the adult section of the library to the youth section to have a cell phone conversation. Adults have used cell phones right in front of me, when I am sitting at the reference desk, to call family members or friends asking about what items they were supposed to pick up. The youth patrons I have seen communicating on cell phones are usually speaking with caregivers or parents to communicate whereabouts. While I have no doubt that all of these conversations are important to the people who are having them, there is no reason why these conversations cannot take place outside the library or in another place that will not disturb others.

What can public libraries do to address this issue? Developing a cell phone policy is the first step. You can then make signs to post throughout the library or print the policy on cards for staff to give to patrons causing disruptions. Instructing staff on how to incorporate the library’s cell phone policy is also a good idea, this way staff members can provide a united front on the issue. Providing permitted areas for cell phone use may also be beneficial. If patrons coming in to the library see other patrons using their cell phones in the vestibule, then the entering patrons will get a glimpse of where cell phone use is acceptable. If libraries routinely have patrons coming in to conduct business, have small rooms that patrons can reserve where they can hold their conversations and not disturb others.

With increasing use of cell phones as devices for other things besides conversation, such as music and helpful apps, it is understandable that people would like to have cell phones near them. While libraries may not want to go so far as to ban cell phone use in libraries, it is important for them to develop cell phone policies so that their usage does not harm or disturb patrons in the library.


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  1. Hannah Comierre says:

    Aug 15, 2014

    Dear Abigail:

    You say cell phone use should be encouraged within public libraries because “its no different than having a conversation with person sitting next to you.” You suggest that others who don’t agree with your beliefs have an “attitude”. However, a problem occurs upon imposing your beliefs in public places by means of actions which are known to annoy others, such as disturbing their right to the singular function of a library, which for centuries has remained an institution dedicated toward the study of materials within an environment capable of achieving that end. The function of a library fulfills a need not provided by any other public forum in our nation: an escape from the conventional noise and distraction found in every other public area of our nation.

    Have you possibly mistaken your real need, such as a local Activity Center, which is specifically provided by local government for conducting a wealth of diverse actions, including the spectrum of noise which reasonably accompanies those activities? However, be prepared for the worst, should you attempt any activity which offends the conventional rights of others at an Activity Center, -such asking them to be quiet.

    On the same note, Abigail, be prepared for the same outcome should you continue to act out your aggressive beliefs within the ONLY place in this nation provided to specifically exclude actions which hinder the normal purpose of a library. Is it possible how others within such an environment would have reason to be annoyed by your telling them that, “The only way it’s rude is if you are being overly loud and obnoxious.” Please try to understand how you are not the judge of what should be imposed, accepted or tolerated by those who use the library for its intended purpose, and whose reason for being there includes an escape from the normal noise, distraction and selfish motives which may reasonably be expected to occur anywhere outside the doors of a library.

    As stated, there are many public places specifically built to accommodate your needs, so if you’d care to be a part of the solution, then begin by acknowledging the well settled rights held by others in this matter.

    As stated, there are many public places specifically built to accommodate your needs, so if you’d care to be a part of the solution, please stop challenging the well settled rights held by others in this matter.

    Thank you for thinking about others.

  2. Mitch says:

    Nov 21, 2014

    Cell phone users shout because their voices are garbled. They’re not politely whispering to a neighbor. They’re decoding broken words and shouting back words that are in turn broken. So they run into the stacks with their phones to shout there, not caring their one-sided conversation disturbs everyone in nearby aisles. I enjoy hunting them down and smiting them like the rude fools they are.

  3. Howard says:

    May 4, 2016

    What annoys me greatly is the LANGUAGE that some people use when talking on cell phones in the library (or anywhere else, for that matter). I’ve witnessed a few cases where a librarian approaches a “patron” (if that’s the right word) and tells him that he’s guilty of two violations—-using a cell phone in the library, and another one for the language.

    Right on!!!

  4. Mel H says:

    Jul 29, 2016

    I use computer at public library at least three times a week. Somehow I always manage to put my cell phone on vibrate, and if a call comes in I need to take, I go outside the library. Library used to have a ‘NO CELL PHONE’ policy – but I didn’t see how my usage would impact others in any way, and when I saw others doing as I did, it wasn’t a disruption. But many would let their cell phones ring out loud (some are set SOOOO loud!), then have a loud conversation, or even if it was a quieter conversation, it still bugged me as I took my calls outside. Then the library enacted a ‘PLEASE SILENCE YOUR CELL PHONES’ policy, which doesn’t convey that you can’t talk on your phone in the library. I inquired about it, the staff just shrugged their shoulders, said management makes the policies. Guess it doesn’t matter, the staff didn’t enforce the older policy anyway, they’d walk right past someone using their cell phone. I realize they’re librarians, not police officers, still, sometimes our jobs include tasks we don’t like, like confronting patrons who don’t think the rules apply to them.

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