Category Archives: Research

OSHA-Regulation Hair

The following description is an attempt to capture the visual details of one of the subjects I observed during practice research. Specifically, it is based on my field notes about one of the employees I observed.

The girl behind the deli counter looked like she was a college student. She was of average height, thin, and pale, and she tended to keep her eyes down when talking to a customer. Her uniform included a green apron and a baseball cap with the cafe’s company logo on the front. From my previous experience working in food service, I knew the cap was part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s regulations on food service requirements:

“Workers should not wear loose-fitting clothing, jewelry, or other items that could become entangled in machinery, and long hair should be worn under a cap or otherwise contained to prevent entanglement in moving machinery.”

In full compliance, the worker’s auburn hair was pulled back in a pony tail which was tucked through the opening in the back of her cap. A few stray tufts of hair stuck out from under the cap, and she had smoothed them back behind her ears. She wore glasses, and the glasses held a bit of the stray hair back at the temples. The pony tail was tied back with a white elastic band, and the tail hung down to about the middle of her back. When she turned from side to side, I noticed that the falls of hair gathered in the tail were wavy and loose. The waves made it seem like her hair didn’t want to be restrained by cap, elastic, and glasses. Instead it seemed as though it should be worn in auburn falls across her shoulders, free from restrictions and OSHA regulations.

OSHA regulations also require you to wash your hands after touching your hair, though I doubt anyone would object to the girl making a cup of coffee after she brushed a stray strand of hair back over her ear, denying it its attempt to find freedom.

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Overall, I’d consider all of my “practice research” to be a good learning experience, but not an all-around success. One of the biggest issues I have with human interaction is overcoming my shyness and actually going up to talk to people. The cafe employee described above is someone I observed while lurking behind bookshelves, without actually interacting with her. At one point, I considered making a purchase in order to initiate an interaction, but the sodas at the cafe were $1.95, and I only had about $1.45 left on hand after buying a chai tea and a bagel earlier in the afternoon.

Even during the field research scene I depicted, it was my fellow researcher, Veronica, who actually approached the cashier and engaged her in conversation. We learned far more about the bookstore from her, from the employee concerns to the issues with students, than we ever would have simply by observing from a distance.

This limitation tells me what I will need to do when it comes time for the real thing. I feel like I have a handle on taking notes, reviewing them, and compiling them into a coherent scene. However, I’ll need to be more outgoing and engaging in order to get the kind of interactions I need to really learn about my research subjects. There’s only so much one can learn from a distance. Everyone has a story to tell, but you have to go up and talk to them before they can start telling it.

Last Day For Returns

The following scenes depict my experiences conducting practice field research at a local bookstore, and are compiled from my field notes.

1.

My fellow researchers and I met at a local bookstore on a Tuesday evening, planning to study the locals. We had a short meeting before we began, where we discussed the specifics. There seemed to be several different sub-cultures within the store, and it seemed best to divide ourselves among the different groups in order to maximize our efficiency. After some discussion, it was decided that I would be focusing on the employee-customer interactions. My goal was to gain some understanding of the rituals and customs that dictated the relationships between those who worked in the store, and those who merely came there to shop.

After wandering for a time in search of interactions (at first finding none), I decided to settle in wait while observing the lone cashier who sat at the register. She was an African American woman in her late 30s or early 40s, with glasses and short hair she had pulled back away from her face. She wore a black sweatshirt and a scarf, which seemed strange to me at first. The other employees I had observed had nametags, and those in the cafe wore green aprons that marked them as employees. The cashier, however, was dressed entirely in civilian clothing. If not for her position behind the register, I never would have realized she worked here.

I stood behind a table full of books, trying to act like a casual shopper while I watched and waited for a customer to arrive. While she was waiting, the cashier kept her head down, and she seemed to be reading or texting with a smartphone that was out of sight behind the counter. When a customer finally arrived, the cashier was short and to the point. She rang up his purchase and placed it in a bag while he swiped his card through the reader mounted on the counter. In less than a minute the transaction was complete, and the cashier said, “Thanks.” She then returned to her texting before the customer had exited the building.

I wandered off for a time since there didn’t seem to be much action at the register. I swung by the information desk and saw two young men there, talking. They both wore nametags, however, marking them both as employees. My goal was to observe interaction with a customer. I abandoned the information desk and moved over to the cafe to explore that area. A young man and a young woman were behind the counter, chatting while they cleaned and restocked the supplies. No customers.

It wasn’t long after this that I realized in order to see any customer interactions, I was going to need to create a customer.

2.

After several more failed attempts at finding any interaction, I returned to the cashier and found another of my fellow researchers, Veronica, lingering nearby. Like me, she was hanging back and not directly interacting with anyone. I told her about my concerns, how I didn’t know how I was going to observe any customer interactions if there weren’t any customers. We discussed it for a short time, before Veronica decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I’m going to go talk to her,” she said.

I decided to observe from a short distance away while she approached the cashier and struck up a conversation. It didn’t take long for the cashier to guess at our purpose, at which point she declared that she could tell us all about what really goes on in the bookstore.

The first thing she told us was that the store was cold. She waved a hand at the tall windows behind her and said, “These windows are not insulated.” The then began complaining that the windows in the manager’s office are insulated, which she said was not very fair. Due to the cold, which was made worse every time someone opened the doors right next to the register, she said she had to wear “this,” and gestured to her sweatshirt and scarf.

Veronica continued asking her about what the store was like. “I’ve been here so long,” the cashier said. “I’ve worked here so long. Each semester gets worse.”

She told us that she had been working for the same bookstore chain for several years, but had only transferred to the college bookstore a few semesters back. She had been there long enough, however, to develop some opinions about the college-aged customers who frequented the store.

“How do these kids get into college?” she asked, shaking her head. She then started listing some of the common issues she had with the college customers. “Do you not know when we return books?” she asked.

I looked up at the register and saw a sign mounted there, where it would be in plain view of any customers that approached. It read, in bold black lettering, “Last Day For Returns is 1-27-14.”

Despite the sign, and the stickers placed on the books listing the last day for returns, the cashier said many students come in after the deadline, trying to return their books. She explained how some students will purchase a $200 book before class starts, which sometimes includes a plastic-wrapped set of books and CD-roms. The stickers on the plastic-wrapped packages instruct students not to open them until they are certain they won’t need to return them, since opened packages cannot be returned.

“They clearly don’t read directions,” the cashier said. “And we gave them dang near two weeks. Then kids come in on the 9th [of February], ‘I wanna return my book.'” She also said some of the kids get an attitude, or bring their parents in to argue. “It’s not even the kids – it’s the parents.” One student, she said, even tried to return a book he had purchased the previous semester. She told us how the kid’s father had argued with her about it until she explained to him that the book was from last year.

“Students have no common sense,” she said.

Fieldnotes and Practice Research

As I’ve mentioned a few times lately, I’m currently doing research into racism, sports, and Native American culture. As part of this research, in the near future I have plans to visit a Native American Museum in Delaware (which, unfortunately, isn’t open weekdays until April) and the Native American Voices exhibit at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia (which I will hopefully be visiting this coming Thursday, March 13th, if all goes according to plan). While visiting these museums, I plan to collect as much information as I can, including talking to any experts I might encounter who can share more than what is seen in the exhibits.

In preparation for this, I’ve engaged in some practice field research, taking notes and studying the “culture” of a local bookstore. Alongside my classmates and fellow researchers, I observed a variety of individuals and their interactions. My goal was to capture as much about the moment as possible so that it could later be recreated as a written scene.

This is the first of three “practice research” blog posts where I’ll be compiling the results. Below are pictures of the hand-scrawled fieldnotes I recorded at the bookstore, along with typed translations of my poor handwriting and more complete descriptions in full sentences. There will also be a post dedicated to composing a full scene based on these notes, and then a third dedicated to making a more vivid description of an individual from the bookstore in an attempt to capture and relay their image.

  • Cash Registers:Bookstore Fieldnotes (1)
  • The cashier wears a black sweatshirt, a scarf, glasses, and a small frown. When I first saw her, it seemed strange that she wasn’t wearing any kind of uniform or nametag. If she hadn’t been behind the register, I wouldn’t have known she was a bookstore employee.
  • She sits behind the register, her eyes down on the table before her. She seems to be reading, texting, or doing something else with her smartphone.
  • When a customer approaches she rings him up without saying much, bags his purchase, says “Thanks,” and then returns to her phone before he has even left the store.
  • One of my fellow researchers approaches and engages her in conversation.Bookstore Fieldnotes (2)
  • The cashier says she can tell us about what really goes on in the bookstore. Her first remark is that the store is cold. She gestures to the windows behind her and says, “These windows are not insulated.” She also explains that the windows in the manager’s office are insulated, and complains about the unfairness of that.
  • When we ask, she confirms that the cold (especially with the register being right next to the door) is why she is wearing a sweatshirt and scarf.
  • She then begins telling us about what it’s like to work here. “I’ve been here so long,” she says. “I’ve worked here so long. Each semester gets worse.”
  • She begins complaining about the college students who come to the bookstore and asks, “How do these kids get into college? Do you not know when we return books?”
  • She tells us about an example of a student who bought a $200 textbook before class started, who clearly didn’t read the directions. The bookstore puts a sticker on the books including the latest date that returns are accepted, and telling students not to unwrap the plastic-wrapped books (which include sets of multiple books and sometimes additional CD-roms) until they’re sure if they’re the right ones. Some, she explains, end up with the wrong books or end up dropping the class, but then find they cannot return the book sets that have been opened.
  • She then tells us that even though the bookstore offered an additional extension of nearly two weeks, students still came in after the deadline.Bookstore Fieldnotes (3)
  • A sign right above the cash register reads “Last day for returns is 1-27-14.”
  • Despite this, she says that some kids came in as late as February 9th and said “I wanna return my book,” then they “get an attitude” when she tells them they’re past the deadline for returns.
  • She also says, “It’s not even the kids – it’s the parents.” She tells a story about a student who brought their parents down to the bookstore to try to argue about the return, in one case even when the Bookstore Fieldnotes (4)book was supposed to be returned last semester.
  • She concludes, laughing, that “Students have no common sense.”