This year, we have followed a 'draconian' policy (where we only tell people to be quiet three times before politely asking them to leave; we may need to revisit our definition of draconian...); however, whilst there has been largely positive feedback regarding this approach in focus groups, staffing levels render this a challenge. Further, it appears that there is inconsistency across the team, with some people tolerating low whispers and short, functional conversations. In previous years, such exchanges were the norm. Problems are exacerbated by having group study rooms on the same floor, leading to a considerable amount of noise bleed which sometimes renders efforts on the main floor ridiculous; asking whisperers to be quiet whilst people are shouting unchallenged on the other side of a plasterboard divide has led to some confrontations.
The adoption of t-shirts and sashes in a vibrant blue, to be worn when roving, have made staff more noticeable. This has had both positive and negative results, however. On the plus side, a blue-shirt in an area automatically hushes conversations to a whisper, with some students looking up guiltily as you approach to remind them of the rules. However, some have taken this change as licence to begin talking again when that member of staff leaves; further, staff who are not wearing this uniform now get odd looks when they address talking students on their way through the area. The adoption of 'uniform' has also increased the perception (on the part of both staff and customers) of rover-as-policeman, with focus increasingly on enforcing rules and regulations, to the detriment of offering on-the-spot support for problems.
I'm not saying that I am not equally guilty of falling into the 'enforcer' mindset at times, nor that my colleagues are doing anything inherently wrong. However, there remain issues surrounding definition of what is, and is not, acceptable, alongside consistency in applying the rules. I have tried to think of suggestions for ways forward, but they all seem trite, have cost implications or lay the blame on single groups. Ultimately, students say they do want silence: they just can't agree on what silence is.
Since first drafting this post, I have done a rotation of roving upstairs as a 'blue-shirt', during which I:
- quelled noise slightly aggressively (snapping at one girl who began speaking again just after I had told her group off);
- sarcastically told one individual off for belching and then laughing about it (actually, this is another problem of definition - bodily noises (such as belches and hiccups) and giggling can be more disturbing than low chatter, but our signage says 'no talking', so it's hard to address this);
- 'patrolled' the floor, perpetuating the expectation that the few students up there could not be trusted to be quiet of their own accord;
- went on my break, leaving no-one to maintain the quiet atmosphere I had to that point inculcated.
Maybe I'm the problem...