Politics: Bookstore Noise - Resolved



Table of Contents

1. The Event: 2006-11-19

I went to the UW_Bookstore (Seattle) to search for texts on politics, languages, and aerodynamics. There was a rock band upstairs playing so loudly I couldn't concentrate.

How loud is loud? Per this chart: I'd estimate it was 90-100 dB (which is at low-end of live rock bands). What should it be? A library would be 30dB, but that is too stringent for a bookstore. Let's say normal conversation, with a dishwasher running, or about 65dB.

After a few minutes I went to the Information Desk and said "If this is an experiment to see how long until people complain, then I am officially complaining." I didn't have to explain the subject of complaint. The woman at the desk said she could do nothing about it, it was pre-arranged by Marketing for a school-oriented fair, she had heard it was supposed to be poetry readings, but the band was added by organizers. At least I think that is what she said.

I asked to talk to the person in charge. She said she'd check. I went back to trying to examine books, including further back in the stacks. It was still too loud to concentrate. After another minute or so, I went upstairs, saw the band members were children, and shouted over the noise "Which parents or adults are in charge here?" A woman said it was coordinated through the Children's Department. Some guy with long grey-and-white hair said something to me -- I couldn't tell what he said.

I went over to the Children's Department and asked for who was in charge. A woman said she was. I told her the noise was way too loud. Poetry readings or acoustic music are one thing, but a fully amplified rock band was out of bounds. I asked who to contact to make a complaint. She said it was organized by Marketing.

Meanwhile Mr. GreyHair came over to say I should at least have waited until the band stopped. I told him it was too loud to wait any longer. As he turned away, I saw he had a hearing aid. Perhaps to him it was in fact an acceptable noise level.

The band had stopped by then, so I tried to search for texts in the foreign languages section (which is right next to the band setup). "Rachel" came up to me and explained she was the person in charge for the day. I told here I'd been coming to the UW Bookstore or its predecessors since 1963 and had never heard anything like this. She said they did in fact have music from time to time. I asked if it was amplified to that level. She could not answer. I asked how I could make a formal complaint -- that I was willing to do so immediately. She said I would have to wait until Monday and talk to HR.

I bought one of the books I'd come for and left.

2. Resolved

After a few misses, Heather McCoy (Director Marketing) and I spoke. At first she said she understood it was a choir, and was surprised that it was a rock band. She explained the management intent was to keep the bookstore comfortable for both customers and staff. That included deciding not to pipe in background music, and deciding to separate the actual music section from the book section.

She provided this followup. I consider the matter closed.

3. Background

I've been coming to the UW since Jr High, in 1963. I have 3 degrees from the UW and am a lifetime alum. I consider the UW Bookstore an important part of the University community. I've talked with other alums who say the same.

Anyone who thinks for a living or as a hobby knows that a certain level of concentration is needed. Different people have different ways to achieve concentration, including some who listen to loud rock bands. The rule is that you are welcome to your favorite noises, as long as you don't interfere with others. This is stringently true in libraries, less so in bookstores. Still, using a bookstore requires a reasonable level of consideration. Loud talking, loud music, and fistfights are out of bounds.

The current UW Bookstore setup has an open atrium with open stairs up to the second floor. On the second floor there is an open area for events. I recall lectures, poetry readings, book signings, and maybe a string quartet once. There may have been other acoustic music events, but I can't recall ever having heard anything like this amplified rock band. The point is, whatever events they were, they did not dominate thought in all parts of the store.

I look forward to learning the UW Bookstore's official policy in this matter, the principal decision makers, and the mechanisms for adjusting that policy.

4. Medical and Legal Matters

Loud music can be used as a weapon (see Future_War). At extreme levels it breaks down tissues, at lower levels it damages hearing, and at still lower levels it creates stress, which in turn can damage the hormonal and circulatory systems.

In recognition of the medical effects of loud noises, academic, governmental and advocacy groups around the world have established limits on exposure. The legal world has partly caught up with the hearing-loss aspects, but is not yet fully up to speed on stress effects.

UW Bookstore employees were being exposed to the same stresses I was. The difference is that I could leave. I could formally complain without fear of losing a job or accruing subtle demerits.

5. Next Steps

5.1. Contact Marketing and HR

Determine what policies are in place. Perhaps this was a misunderstanding. From Executives I see we have:

  • Louise Little Director of Human Resources (206) 545-9475

  • Heather MacCoy Director of Merchandising & Marketing (206) 634-3400, extension 270

I sent an email to L. Little and H, McCoy, citing this page and providing my cell phone number. I asked to talk with them ASAP.

2006-11-21 Still no response. Will wait until after Thanksgiving and try again.

5.2. Go further?

If we can not reach resolution, then we need to seek technical input:

If we can't reach an understanding with that, we may need to reach out to political organizations.

Creator: Harry George
Updated/Created: 2006-12-07