Thursday, March 22, 2012

Volume Control

I'm not trying for a perfectly quiet library. I don't sit behind my desk, with my hair in a bun, cardigan, and glasses on a chain and shush people. (Well I do have a desk, wear my hair in funky ballerina buns and wear cardigans, but no glasses chain!) People can converse in normal inside voices. We've got ukuleles for check out and playing in the library. It's a fairly relaxed environment.

And yet still we require a limit to the chaos. I'd realized how bad it gotten when after a two hour desk shift during the afterschool hours I had ringing ears and a headache.

We average between 60 and 110 teenagers that visit the library during a two hour span afterschool every day. That's never going to be quiet. Sometimes no one person or group is noisy, there are just a lot of them. I'm of the belief that middle schoolers are naturally about 10 decibels louder than adults anyway.

We struggle a lot with headphones and music played over speakers on ipods, iPhones, and various other devices. I've ranted posted about this before. Today when I asked a teen to turn down his music, he expressed surprised that "no loud music" was a library rule. I reminded him that this is a library, and he explained that it was a "lousy library" because it's always noisy.

Can't win. If I ask him to turn down music, I'm mean. If I don't, it's a lousy library because it's too loud.

I've been looking at a number of ways to address the noise issue. When you just ask teens to be quieter/calmer, it's subjective and only effective for about 85 seconds.

My first thought was to get a decibel meter attached to a stop light. It's called a Yakker Tracker and has been effective in classrooms and school lunch rooms. Another librarian pointed out it would be extremely unfriendly to teens. A staff member thought they might see it as a personal challenge. True all that. Idea dropped.

My next idea was a portable decibel meter. (I saw them using one on Top Gear and that inspired me.) You can get a relatively decent one for ~$40. The advantage of a decibel meter is it gives me a scientific tool. It's no longer my discretion and face it we all have bad days when we're more sensitive and easily annoyed. The teenagers don't feel that I'm singling them out. It's SCIENCE! Who doesn't love science?

As I was perusing various portable decibel meters, I had a realization. (And I admit this should have come up a lot sooner.) I bet there's an app for that! Sure enough, I downloaded a decibel meter app and started using it immediately.

I consulted various decibel charts to see what an appropriate noise level should be. Finally I decided that a "dull roar" was less than 80 decibels at 5 to 10 feet away from the group of teens. A more ideal number would be less than 70 decibels at the same distance.

So far it is working really well for us. The teens see me walking around with my iPhone out and know what I'm looking at. The objective nature of it prevents them from feeling attacked. They often ask me how many decibels they are. It also gives me ammunition against adults who say it is "too noisy".

I'm happy enough with the app that I am considering purchasing the portable decibel meter for a tool for all staff to use.

So what is everyone else doing for volume control at your libraries?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Bye Bye Britannica

Earlier this week the Encyclopedia Britannica announced that after 244 years of publishing, it would no longer print a new edition. All content will now be available only digitally. This set off tearful editorials, hand wringing, and pearl clutching throughout the Internet. I particularly liked this editorial in the New York Times because it triggered a memory of my own first encyclopedia set. So here for five things on a Friday are random reflections on encyclopedias, reference, and classic pop songs.

  1. Funk and Wagnalls
    My first set of encyclopedias, the one we had when growing up, was a set of Funk and Wagnalls Encyclopedias. They "sold" them at the grocery store, but I believe you got them very discounted if you purchased x amount of groceries. Or something. I was too young to be much interested in the details. I do know that they were released slowly (or so it seemed to me as a child) and every few weeks we would get the new volume, the next letter in the set. I can remember the excitement of watching the shelves fill up in the living room (I bet they are still there in my parents' living room) and flipping through the latest volume looking at all the colored photos. They got me through our first few years of school reports and random questions.

  2. Microsoft Encarta
    Thanks to my mother's job (running payroll computer systems) we had a computer at home and an internet connection before many of my peers. Before we were online, I can remember the fun of CD-ROM games. My parents were anti-video game and we never had a console system, but we had all the educational CD-ROM games (Dr. Brain, Carmen Sandiego, etc.) My favorite game was an extra feature included with our CD-ROM copy of Microsoft Encarta (a digital encyclopedia). It was called MindMaze and you wondered from room to room answering trivia/general knowledge questions. Each room had its own guardian and quip for you. That was one of my favorite games when I was in middle school. I've always been a sucker for trivia games. And I do remember using Encarta as a source in a few reports; mainly I remember how much of a pain it was to figure out how to cite in my bibliographies. Our librarians had photocopied sheets for us about how to cite new formats like CD-ROM encyclopedias.

  3. New World Books
    One of my favorite things in the year is when the new World Book Encyclopedias come in. They always have this beautiful panoramic/mural style photo along all the spines. All the staff gets excited to see it. So pretty.

  4. A Librarian Confession
    And this is the point where I admit I'm not a very good librarian. I've never directed a patron to the Encyclopedia Britannica for a reference question. Databases or World Book yes, but never the good old Encyclopedia Britannica. It just isn't as useful for quick reference as World Book and as good for in depth reference as a dataabase. So I guess I'm not all that upset about it going away.

  5. Bye Bye Britannica
    I've been trying really hard since I heard the announcement to rewrite the lyrics of "American Pie" to fit this situation.
    Bye Bye Britannica,
    Drove my ferry to the brary but the shelves were bare.
    And good old kids were drinking gatorade
    singing This'll be the day that I upgrade!
    This'll be the day that I upgrade!

    It doesn't work I'm afraid. However I have had that song stuck in my head for two days now.

Friday, March 09, 2012

DVD and CD Suggestion Box

Normally our system does not do suggestion boxes for materials. We have a suggest a purchase link on our website and encourage patrons to use that. (It's so much easier for our selectors). When a patron can't or won't use that, staff might fill it out for them. Staff can also use it to let selectors know of gaps in the collection they notice.

However I have some grant money to spend for my location on DVDs and CDs. Instead of going through the normal media selector, I'm ordering the DVDs and our youth services librarian is ordering the CDs. So for just this location we placed a "Suggest a DVD or CD" box complete with papers or pencils directly on top of the (short) shelves that hold those materials.

Our patrons have been very happily giving us suggestions and I've been emptying the box every two days or so. There are the normal generic suggestions (more exercise videos, more PBS features) and that is very doable. Some of my favorites are for items that we own but were checked out when they asked. But that is neither here nor there.

For today's five things on a friday, I give you five unusual suggestions from our suggestion box:

  1. Comments on staff member's bodies or suggestions of activities to do with them.
    I'm not surprised by this one. I knew this box would have some kind of abuse. But I've never been sexually harassed by comment card before.

  2. A full page typed list (single spaced) of suggestions
    They were all anime. We've actually set aside some of our DVD money especially for anime. I'm really impressed by the amount of time a person took for this.

  3. Vague insults
    One card said "your mom!", another "in your face" and a third "F you". They actually just wrote the F and not the full word which made me chuckle. We're adjacent to a middle school. These things happen.

  4. Stuffing the ballot box
    We have one child who writes down every title he wants three or four times, on three or four different cards, and puts each one individually into the box. I appreciate the enthusiasm, but it isn't an election.

  5. "Akward chink"
    This was written twice (on two different cards), but not by the boy mentioned above. I tried that spelling, the correct spelling, and every possible variation and I can't find a movie, anime, TV show, CD, band name, song name, or anything that would makes it make sense. So I can't purchase whatever it was this person wants. (And I'm quite sure that this is not meant as an insult to any of my staff since I have no staff members of Asian-American ethnicity.) If anyone has any ideas, I'd like to hear them.