Thursday, May 05, 2011

Gotta have my tunes

At some point in the last 30 years, we developped the concept of a personal soundtrack as your inaleianable right. I'm not pretending to be a social historian, but I suspect it began with the development of the portable transistor radio and then the walkman, the diskman, and finally the iPod (or generic MP3 player). The generation of teens today has never known a time when it wasn't possible to have whatever music you wanted whenever you wanted it. To be fair, I'm in my late 20s (part of the Millenial generation) and I can't really recall a time when I didn't have some sort of portable music player.

An example from a staff side. Years ago when I was active on livejournal, I belonged to a community based on sharing funny stories of frustrating library patrons and ranting about them in general. One library clerk posted a rant. Apparently a patron complained about the music she was playing. She had music streaming over the speakers on the circulation desk computer. Her rant was that they (presumably library management) wouldn't let her use her headphones (reasonable when she's working a public service desk) and she could not be expected to go 8 hours without her music. This woman literally believed it was her right to play music at all times. A scary number of comments agreed with her. Of course some agreed with me when I pointed out that it isn't too much to ask you to work without music when at a public desk at a library. But it was for me an interesting insight into a totally different mentality.

In a similar vein the question "Should shelvers be allowed to listen to music on ipods while shelving in the public stacks?" comes up regularly on library listservs.

It may be that I have developped some cranky old lady personality traits long before crows feet and gray hairs, but you do not have the right to have your music going at all times. (Also get off my lawn!) Shelvers shouldn't listen to music because it makes them unapproachable to members of the public. It is not unreasonable for you to be asked to work 8 hours without music. Yes many people work in jobs where they can listen to music; library work (except in back offices) is not one of those fields. Deal.

Let me spin you a very common story from the public side. This happens two or three times a day at my library. A patron will come in blaring music on their iPod. One earbud will be plugged into their ear, the other will be dangling loose. Everyone within 25 feet can clearly hear the music. They will not stop, pause, or turn down the music while talking to friends, browsing library materials, or interacting with staff members. I (or another staff member) will politely remind them that library policy requires that music only be listened to through headphones or earbuds. A small percentage of patrons will then make an appropriate adjustment, but the vast majority of them will look confused. We then further explain that they need to either stop the music or put both earbuds in their ears.

A secondary situation (as common as the first): the patron has correctly plugged both earbuds into their ears but the music is loud enough that everyone around them still hears every beat. Either their earbuds are cheap enough that they don't properly direct the music or their hearing is damaged from years of this abuse that they need it that loud or a combination of the two. Usually (even with the teenagers) it is a combination of cheap earbuds and damaged hearing.

Two less common scenarios (so I only see them once a week instead of twice a day) are patrons who are using oldstyle headphones (not earbuds) and wearing them around their neck to listen to music instead of over their ears. Or they are using their earbuds in the middle of the table as little bitty speakers for all their friends. The latter teen will typically argue with me that they are using headphones/earbuds.

And of course there are the people who simply use their device with external speakers in the library. I've overheard some private conversations as a person on speakerphone sat a library table consulting paperwork and yelling at their phone. Or people watching videos on phones/devices and showing them to friends. No headphones at all.

There are two simple rules. If we all agree to them, life will be easier. Or at least my life will be. And since this is my blog, that is what matters.

Rule Number One
Use headphones/earbuds in the library or hold your phone directly to your ear. Basically the sound needs pumped directly into your ear. This is a library specific rule (though it seems to be common sense to me) and I have no problem explaining it to you once. When we're having the same conversation about it every day, then I get irritated.

Rule Number Two
If you are using your headphones/earbuds properly, only you can hear the sound. That's the point of headphones. This is a general life rule and should be observed at all times by all people, especially on public transit.

Two rules. And then we can move on to not talking on your cell phone when trying to interact with a person behind a service desk (at the grocery store, at the library, wherever).

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