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?

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