Friday, November 24, 2006

Voyage to the Library: Day 1

Sometimes I can't think of good titles for my posts, especially when they aren't about any one thing or don't have a general theme, so I will use this 'voyage log' style in these cases.

I went to the library to pick up a book. As I walked in, I noticed a sign in the middle of the lobby which stated something like this, "Help us pick out new furniture! Please stop by the 3rd Floor, test sample furniture, and complete a survey." I'm generally pretty lazy, so I wouldn't have stopped by the 3rd floor just to test out the furniture, but it just so happened that the book I wanted was on the 3rd floor. As I stepped off the elevator (I told you I was lazy. Those of you who go or went to UC Irvine or are otherwise familiar with it's Main [Langson] Library will especially appreciate this as you know on which floor you must enter the library. Hint: It's the 2nd.), I noticed the sample furniture, one chair and one small couch. I also noticed that the survey deposit box was completely open and there was no one around who was paying any attention to the test area. So, what did I do? Well, I'm an Anthropologist, so I read the surveys. There were only about 5 and I wondered if that was all that had been completed or if the box is emptied daily. Glancing at each survey before actually reading it, I noticed that all of the respondents had left comments in the optional "Comments:" section. I again wondered how many people had completed the survey and who these people were. The surveys showed that they were all students - one was also a library staff member - but did not indicate which school or department they were affiliated with or whether they were undergraduate or graduate students. If I were conducting the survey, I would have liked to gather this information, because I think it would have demonstrated how different populations of students think differently about public, library, work, study space.

That the surveys all had optional comments left on them led me to figure that the respondents, regardless of field and level of study, were generally people like me, people who like to please, people who feel compelled to do their civic duty, people who like to vote, people who believe in democracy, people who really believe that their actions, input, and voice matter and can make a difference, or at least believe that going through the motions of such is a just cause. Even if I hadn't known that the respondents were all students, I would have figured as much by their informal, yet argumentative tone. All of the comments were arguments, not strong, well constructed arguments (one simple said, "The couch is better"), but still they were arguments not observations. Of those arguments some were in favor of the couch, some the chair, some considered their opinion alone, while others considered how others might feel about the furniture (one said, "How about some chairs for lefties?" in reference to the swivel board on the right side of chair), some relied purely on structural functional analysis (how the size, shape, materials, etc of the furniture would effect its use), while one was primarily concerned with the damaging social implications the couch would have over the chair, that respondent argued that because the couch had no table surface and was made to seat more than one person it would discourage working and studying and encourage talking and would become a "magnet for laughter" (the same respondent demanded for "more single desks with outlets!" which was not even one of the sample furniture choices).

These comments about sample furniture gave me a glimpse into how people conceptualize the library space. The respondent who seemed irritated at the idea of talking in the library was particularly interesting. The library makes it explicitly clear, through signage throughout the building and on their website, that there are designated "quiet floors" where silence must be preserved, but the other floors are fair game for reasonable discussion. I have experienced scowls, shushes, and even outright shut ups for conversing with colleagues on non quiet floors. I usually say, "I'm sorry to bother you, but quiet floors are the 4th and Basement." The silencers usually looked pissed and go back to their work, I've never had anyone engage in dialogue with me over the issue or leave for another floor. I think I'm right because of library policy and they think they're right because of their conceptualization of library space, too bad their wrong! j/k. Anyway, I'd just like to conclude this segment by saying that not only did I perform data analysis, but also participant observation. I tested the furniture and took the survey. I didn't argue for either one, but for something that's more ergonomically suited to writing or working on a laptop, those stupid swivel table things always cause you to hunch over which causes, at least for me, muscular and skeletal problems in my shoulders, neck, back, hips, and legs. I went to the chiropractor my first year of university because I could actually see that my hips were uneven. She prescribed a nightly regimen of stretches to undo the damage I was suffering from hunching over my lecture hall swivel tables all day. Damn academia.

I also thought of two other anthropologically interesting things while I was at the library. The first has to do with Jaded, a student run magazine at UCI that is, I believe, the best publication at UCI. I don't know much of anything about the history of the magazine, but I do know that I first noticed it lying around the Arts area and many of the staff were Arts people, which I believe helped contribute to its original and continued success in getting read, or at least noticed, in the Arts area and then across campus, the design, layout, artwork, and photography are always high quality and eye catching. Anyway, today I found the most recent copy of Jaded on the table with the furniture surveys (actually, I browsed the mag while I tested the furniture), and I am still very happy with it. I really have nothing more to say about Jaded except that it ties into my first "anthropological interesting thing" because it was an article in a previous issue of Jaded that cited a study which found that automated check out stands (like those at Albertson's and Home Depot) are actually not faster than cashier stands. This ties into my "Voyage to the Library" because the library has an automated book check out stand. I use it when I have a lot of books and don't want to feel like I'm holding up other people who may be in line to request something of the library service desk employee that cannot be provided by a machine. But today, I was the only one in the lobby and I only had one book. I eyed the machine and the 2 employees at the service desk, one employee caught me surveying my choices. I then walked up to the desk and reached out my arm with my book saying, "I'd like this book please." The employee who hadn't caught me eyeing the machine, eyed the machine himself, then said, "You like to check this out?" I said, "Yes" and handed him my library card. As he was running my card and book through his machine, I said, "I use the machine [motioning head toward machine] when I have a lot of books or there are other people in line, but I felt weird walking over there today, like I would be indicating that I'd rather interact with a machine than with real people, that I'd choose a machine over you two." They laughed, the employee handed me my book and said, "Have a nice day." I said, "You too."

My next "anthropologically interesting thing" relates to my first segment about conceptualizations of public spaces, and that "thing" is this: Bikes are now prohibited on Ring Road, the circular walkway that encompasses the UCI campus. I always conceptualized Ring Road as a public space that should be free of bikes between the first and last ten minutes of every hour from 8 to 5 pm because there are so many pedestrians trying to get to class that it is just not safe, let alone not courteous, for a biker to come barrelling through a herd of people. There is still and has always been a less walked yet parallel path to Ring Road. It is in the park, only yards away from and easily accessible to Ring Road, and for many bikers the park path is preferred to Ring Road for the very fact that there are so many pedestrians on Ring Road. But now, University policy, made known through signage, states that there may be no bikes on Ring Road. I think this is a good thing, because now my conceptualization of Ring Road as a public space where bikes should not (for the most part) be allowed, have been made legitimate. And, just as a point out to shushers in the library that there are legitimate quiet and non quiet areas, I may now point out to bikers that there are legitimate biking and non biking areas, oh yeah, that's power! Again, j/k.

The last point I want to address in this oh so long post which probably serves no purpose other than to postpone my writing of personal statements for graduate applications (I call this practice "constructive procrastination" and share it with nearly every other blogger out there) is this: being without my cell phone places me in a liminal stage. When I either forget, which is not often at all, lose, which is even less often, or temporarily misplace, which happens most often but still not frequently, my cell phone, I feel completely liberated and shackled all at once. I feel liberated because I know that if my cell phone rings I won't be compelled to answer it because I won't even know it is ringing and I feel shackled because I know that if my cell phone rings I won't be able to answer it because I won't even know it is ringing. I am so tied to my cell phone that without it I am disoriented. I go to check the time, I can't find my cell phone, and I stumble for a moment trying to decide how to go about this task, "Look for a clock. No clock in sight. Where might there be a clock? Oh yes, there is a clock on that building. Is it too far to walk? Might there be a closer clock? Should I ask someone for the time? . . ." Or, I want to alert my boyfriend that I will be back later than I told him when I left and I can't, I do not have my cell phone, "What do I do? How am I going to tell him? Is my laptop in my car? I could send him an instant message or email. No, my laptop is at home with my phone. What do I do? Is there a payphone around here? Do I have change? What does it cost to make a call? This is too much for me to handle. I need to get home to my cell phone as quickly as possible." If that isn't a liminal stage, I don't know what is.

No comments: