Monday, June 11, 2007

Publicity and Access

Whether we like it or not, it seems that public awareness of letterboxing is beginning to pick up on many fronts, at least in the Columbia area. This is evidenced by the library's upcoming event and by something occurring today.
This morning, I noticed several "teams" of people accessing one of my boxes on campus. They were not very discreet at all and even discussed the box with some in the building who had no idea what a letterbox is nor where any are planted. No one read the book enough to find the directions to the bonus box (which are pretty obvious if you actually read the welcome text) or if they did they didn't care about the bonus stamp. In fact, from what I could overhear, they had more of a scavenger hunt mentality of getting this stamp and moving on to get the others on their list. After a few had left I quickly pulled my book to see who they were and I learned that they were all MU staff from one of the Schools on campus that was holding a retreat. Only one a few had stamps and some merely signed in as "Team 3" with no name or signature or anything.
At first I didn't know what to think. Yeah it's great that there are people doing the activity but it seems like whoever arranged this had not taken the time to properly research the activity and discuss LB etiquette before sending out the teams. I believe some of you may have been contacted by email from some representative of the School prior to today. If I recall Mamaroots said that they had contacted her trying to get a location of one of her boxes. I didn't realize at the time what kinds of issues this sort of activity might create. If anyone has the contact information of that person, please send it to me so I can drop them a note.
I have mixed feelings about my letterboxes being used for "treasure hunt" style retreat activities without my notification or input. I am not mad. But to me these entries are kind of like unwanted graffiti. On the other hand, it certainly adds legitimacy to the sport, when a University School (not just a department) recognizes and utilizes it as part of formal team building activities. It provides me some ammo for any nay-sayers and demonstrates how LB's can benefit non-letterboxers as well.
The whole thing makes me question whether the past secretive approaches most common of LBers will continue to serve the LB community or become a barrier as more become aware of our activities. Seems like we could be more proactive instead of being reactive down the road. For example, we could design some
formal letterboxing ethics and guidelines for hunting boxes in Mid-MO. Then in the future when someone contacts us we have something formal to send them to guide their activities. Seems like the library could use this and that it would be best if the local LB community created these and not just one or two members.
I know I have talked with Lnd-Crzr and a few others, who had suggested a first LB series which can impart ethics about rehideation and proper placement. I would like to hear what you guys think about the issue and what suggestions you may have.
Last, a quick warning to anyone with a box on campus. I would recommend checking on them in the next few days. If these teams used the same level of discretion at all of these boxes, it is very likely that they exposed some hiding spots. Ooops got to run, I hear another team now.


Fox-fyr said...

I had a "team" hit two of my boxes this weekend as well. Neither box was on campus but both were within a mile of it. I have not had tiem to check on them yet but will do so tomorrow.

The team did send me a status change via LBNA but did not choose to "contact the placer."

I think it would be a good idea to have some formal letterbox etiquette written up--one designed specifically for the media maybe, and another for beginning letterboxers, and another for specially for groups.
I would like to have one that was short enough that I could leave little leaflets in my boxes ina Ziploc labeled "Please take one."
If it's too long, people won't read it. One for the media or organizations could be more detailed.

Below are some possible examples I just brainstormed. Feel free to add/edit/comment.

--Be DISCREET. (I would like to elaborate on this one but can't think of efficient and effective wording).
--Be respectful of the environment:
do not trample vegetation, create new trails, dig through the soil, or disturb historic sites.
--Always re-seal baggies and containers tightly
--Always re-hide box in original location so that no part is visible. Do not try to make it easier for the next finder.
--Always "contact the placer" via e-mail after finding a box.

--Never hide a box in an area that may cause alarm (e.g. near airports, road bridges, utilities, etc.).
--Always label your box as a letterbox.
--(This next one may cause some controversy) Some areas may require you to obtain special permits before planting a box. These include (but may not be limited to) Missouri State Parks, Missouri Conservation Areas and National Forest lands.
--Always ask permission before planting a box on private property.

Jenny J said...

Thanks for bringing up this topic, Stan. I think it merits discussion from our local group. I also have received status changes for two boxes from “Team Ginkgo” in the past few days. Both boxes (Mud & String, Etc. and MidMO letterboxers) are extremely high profile, and I question how a “team” of seekers can be at all discreet in these locations.

There is no doubt in my mind that letterboxing is only going to become more popular, at least for a while. (Is letterboxing the “new yoga”?) Personally I get so much enjoyment on many fronts from LB activities, that it is cheery to see more folks finally catching on. What I see from reading the posts on the LB lists is that there has been a change/shift in the whole tone of our hobby. In the past year or so, the number of hiders/seekers/boxes has mushroomed, and many more families are participating. I guess what irks me is this scavenger hunt mentality. As Stan pointed out, their focus seems to be only finding the box and then moving on to the next. They seem to have little interest in the finer points, for instance, a wonderful handmade journal or the reason the hider wanted them to come to this particular spot. This hunting/scoring thing was NOT the focus of letterboxing several years ago and was not what attracted me. I get cranky thinking about these muggles carelessly pawing through some of our really special boxes.

BUT - and for me, it is important to hold this thought in mind - everything changes. Nothing, not even letterboxing, EVER stays the same. With so many more people becoming involved, change is inevitable - and it doesn’t have to be bad. After all, one of the best aspects of letterboxing is that there are NO RULES; it can be whatever works for you. I may want to dabble in carving and bookbinding, and then take a walk in the woods to hide my little creations. Other folks may just want to zoom from one spot to the next, simply tallying “finds” for a day’s hunting... Different strokes for different folks.

For those of us who are the non-scavenger-hunt type, I think the pro-active approach is a good one. Foxfyr’s idea of written LB etiquette might be one thing to try. Something that could be given to the media would be helpful and handy when any of us are contacted. I would also try tucking leaflets in my boxes. There are MANY creative and thoughtful people in our group. If everyone will offer their ideas and suggestions, we can surely put together some useful information.

That seem like the best approach, for me anyway, just try to help new letterboxers become good letterboxers. So, jump in now with your ideas, and help us get this going!

ahistory said...

I appreciate your guys comments and I wanted to make one quick clarification. Please do not confuze Team Gingko with the teams from the School of Nursing who participated in yesterday's retreat. I doubt any of the retreat participants will log their finds.

I met Team Gingko last week and they seem to be of the utmost LB character. They are from FL and in MO for the summer working in Macon at the repatory theater. They often travel down to Columbia for supplies so you should be seeing them log more boxes in the coming months. When they accessed my box, they followed very good etiquette and even I was unaware that they had tagged it until they showed up at my door. Also, I saw yesterday that they have already planted two boxes near Mid-MO themselves, both of which have very creative and mysterious clues. So if they accessed your box, you have no need to worry.

Jenny J said...

Thanks for that clarification, Stan.

Also, I meant to add that if we can create a leaflet to put in our boxes, I have about half a ream of brightly colored copy paper left over from another project that we could use. I'd be happy to photocopy whatever we come up with so that any of us who wanted to could put a ziploc full in our boxes.

ahistory said...

It seems that yesterday's blitzkrieg of my box did indeed create problems for my box. And now i must deal with their lack of discretion and respect.

Here is an email I received this morning from one of the nurses:

LB Placer - fyi...the staff (6 teams of 2-3 persons)of the MU School of Nursing lb'd yesterday at campus lb locations as part of a staff retreat the [box name censored] location two of our teams were met by a very irritated faculty/staff? member on who confronted both groups asking them what business they had in [the building], what website the lb was listed on, etc...making the groups feel very unwelcome! )-:

I followed up with this:
Thank you for the notice. Unfortunately this group did not contact me before hand, so I was unaware of their activity until it was too late. I wished the teams would have been instructed to follow proper letterboxing etiquette which would have avoided this sort of conflict, but since it was a retreat planned by others, I had no control over the circumstances in which the groups hunted.

Normally, LBers practice the utmost discretion to avoid drawing any unwanted attention such as this to their activity. Prior to this group, over 10 people had accessed the box in question over the past two months without raising similar alarms. Because this is a public building and no person can deny any member of the public from walking down publically owned hallways, I do not understand the territorial nature of the irate person. However, I can understand her frustration at not knowing what was going on. I am afraid the actions of this group may have compromised the location of this box. Do you happen to know who the staff/faculty member was who got irrate? I would like to speak to this person. Also do you know if anyone gave out the website or URL? This could compromise the location of the box if the person is irrate enough to follow the clue and steal the box.
For now, I will revise my clue so that any parties following it will not travel on the seventh floor to avoid any future conflict.
Thank again,

Grace to You said...

Egads! The water keeps getting murkier, eh? Wish I had a solution, other than pulling clues off lbna and making them private.

Lnd-Crzr said...

Getting scolded by a muggle who is using your boxes as entertainment for their party has to rank pretty high on the irritation meter.

Certainly we should get to work on those 'My 1st LB's a few of us have been discussing. And I do like the idea of simple leaflettes scattered about in boxes. Perhaps we can leave them in an envelope which says something like 'New to Letterboxing? Please take one'. If they were one sided with a nifty design or stamp on it, they might be inclined to glue it into their logbook.


Clyde Bentley said...

Come on guys, get a life (or lives). Did anyone really think they could keep letterboxing a secret? It's too much fun!

I think the answer is to make it even more fun. Make the clues harder and more ingenious than just a code sheet. Take people on wild goose chases. Then leave them a longer note on what you would like of them in return.

If you give someone a truly fun time, they are usually so appreciative they will give you something in return -- such as courtesy. And if they don't, to heck with them. There is always a better location.

(PS Perhaps if we created a VERY public series of boxes, maybe we would divert some attention.)


ahistory said...

As Clyde says we cannot keep this activity a secret. Yet we need a way to identify LB activities by non-boxers (which seem the most problematic) so we can provide them with education materials about the nuances and proper etiquette of letterboxing. My philosophy is to embrace newbies and hope to convert them rather than to become recede and hide information.

I guess in the future I will just make it much much harder to decode the hunt. I doubt any of the "teams" found Higher Education or Nancy Drew. They contacted mamaroots asking for the location but she wouldn't tell them, so I doubt any of them were able to figure that one out. I guess for now, I will just work on making the clues to those special boxes of mine much, much more cryptic.

Though it would be nice if we could reach a concensus and take more proactive steps to educate the public about letterboxing. It seems now everyone wants to shy away from reporters who keep calling us, when we could embrace them and use them to inform people about the importance of proper etiquette and the time and creative energy that goes into these public works of art.
I appreciate those who have taken the time to post their thoughts and I look forward to hearing what the rest of you think.

The B Hunters said...

In Florida I was hunting boxes and when you looked up the clues there was a statement about contacting them then they would send you the clue.
They were not stingy with it, but it did make it harder for spur of the moment trips.
The B hunters

OneMeanGreenBean said...

Ok, well to weigh in I too was recently contacted by a Missourian reporter who wanted information on letterboxing for an article related to the library program. I have neglected to call her back, which I know is bad form, but its half reluctance to talk about it, a quarter dislike for the media in general, and a quarter due to my scatter-brainess (yes, I did just make that word up) and the fact that I had forgotten. I think I will in fact call her back in just a moment and talk about proper etiquette. I am with others in their assessment that this is way too much fun to keep secret and education is the best policy.

Stan, I do applaud your diplomacy and tact in your response to the person who was irritated that their free ride use of your hard work (without permission really) didn't have a happy ending. I think I'd have had a hard time staying as nice as you did. Not that anyone ever needs "permission" to tread on public lands and retrieve items we've left for the public, but in such a circumstance a heads up e-mail would have been nice.

I think we all know that it is unreasonable for any of us to have dire attachments to our little fledgling works of art that we leave out in the wilderness (or in urban areas). And it is unreasonable for us to expect that nothing will ever happen to them...boxes go missing for all sorts of reasons, and many times no one at all is to blame. Thats the nature of the game and a risk we all agree to take when placing art in the woods. Impermanance makes it more exciting though, and if boxes were always in their proper place, neat and tidy, we would never have fun stories about rescued boxes and we would lessen the anticipation and excitement when we do find a box.

That said, it would still be nice to hang on to as many of them as possible for as long as possible. I too love the idea of a "my first letterbox", though I'm not sure how to encourage groups such as these campus folks to hit that first. It seems they were just out for their own amusement without much regard to anything else. I think its a great idea to leave etiquette tips for just such an occasion.

OneMeanGreenBean said...

I just spoke with the reporter from the Missourian. She told me that her deadline for the story is not until tomorrow evening so she is going to call me back to talk tomorrow in the afternoon. If anyone else would also like to contact and talk to her, so that she gets a rounded view and all our bases are covered, let me know and I'll e-mail you her phone numbers and e-mail address. Since we're talking about courtesy and permission, I won't post them publicly here since I did not specifically ask if I could do so.

Fox-fyr said...

I had *gasp* about an hour of free time today and checked on the following letterboxes: Buried Jewells, Oracle, Creek Crossings, Alley Cat, Higher Ed, and the Architect Series #1.

The MU Nursings Teams (at least 4 out of five of them) had indeed hit Higher Ed (though none of the rest listed above). The scavenger hunt mentality appeared to be in place as all they did was list the name of their event, the number of their team and a stamp of footprints. It had been rehidden okay though not perfect ( a purple rubberband was visible when it should not have been).

Kudos to Team Gingko for hitting so many Mid-Mo boxes, and re-hiding them well, though I do wish they had used the "contact the placer" link so I wouldn't have worried as much about my boxes which they had hit.

As far as reporters go, some days I feel like asking them why I should talk to them when I keep letterboxing a secret from some of my friends, and other days I feel they could be a good resource for promoting what Jenny J described as the artistic appeal of letterboxing. Perhaps we need to emphasize the artistry as much as we do re-hideation. After all, look at the effect that coining a new phrase, "proper re-hideation," has had on the survival rate of mid-Missouri boxes.

It looks like there are a number of good ideas and projects floating out there that could use some colloboration (letterboxing etiquette, My First Letterbox series, an out-of-towner's guide to mid-mo letterboxing, and requests for several craft demos. Who would be interested in (dare I say it?) a Gathering to work on some of these projects? Maybe at the library?

mamakopp said...

My personal feelings. I carve my own stamps for my boxes. I work hard on these and consider thema work of art. I hince am sharing my art with other enthusists generously. I would hate for any of my stamps to be lost or stolen. So I agree that a list of guidelines would be ideal. Just for informational purposes.

On the other hand maybe a Mid-Mo Experts Letterboxing blog or something to leave our clues for the folks that we know will be discreet and respectful until things die down and newcomers learn the LBing ways.

Just my .02.

Lnd-Crzr said...

I think we've all sturggeled with these issues.

Certainly we hope the best for our boxes, but once we cast them out into the big wide world it is up to the finders how they use them. We can hope for the best but if some band of yahoos decide to see how many LBs they can fill with burning bags of dog poop how can we stop them?

I believe most everyone is aware that I do have a good number (which is growing and is concerning to me) of boxes that are some form or another of WOM (Word of Mouth) clues. I like and dislike these at the same time. Surlymama has what seems like a possible solution of restricting clues. One on of my hidden series folks have to plant a certain number of boxes to get them. With the amount of work that went into the series I would hate for them to beb open to John Q Public, but at the same time I wish they did see more traffic.

So far I think we've been extremely fortunate in our the survival rates of our boxes.


ahistory said...

I think Kat's suggestion of a meeting sounds like a good next step.

I just had a very enlightening meeting with one of the organizers of the retreat activities earlier this week. Her and her kids are new but avid letterboxers. I believe she may be introducing herself soon enough on the blog so I will let her tell you more.

Anyway, it appears that despite the best efforts of the organizers, who gave teams very explicit instructions that stressed proper etiquette and discretion, the competitive nature of many individuals on some of the teams overcame their sensibililties and hence the problems arose. It sounds to me like the organizers took more than ample steps to try to ensure the best intentions. For example, the teams were instructed to use only only page in the logbook for all entries to avoid using lots of pages for their activity. Which partially explains why the entries were so short. The organizers looked through the available resources and guide and developed their plan. If we would have had a formal piece on etiquette, I bet they would have found it and utilized it in their plans. They could have contacted all of the owners of the boxes, but I don't think I personally would have done that either being in their shoes.

They chose LB because it is a good team building activity and becuase a few of them had begun doing it in their spare time and loved it. In fact, we discussed perhaps designing a series specifically to encourage team building to expose more non-boxers to the art and thrills of letterboxing (which I think is a good idea since it would seperate this type of activity from boxes in the field). Both boy and girl scouts have been using LB for this purpose for years, perhaps its time the local tellers at the bank go boxing. But I digress.

After meeting this person, I feel the organizers of this retreat had the best intentions at heart. They assumed adults could understand the need to be discreet as they clearly explained this to them. However, as we all know, letterboxing can bring out the kid in you and it looks like some of those adults turned out to be brats.

In the end, I am actually proud to have their entries in my book. It serves as a mark of the history of this whole discussion and a reminder to the woes of indiscretion and the caveats of group boxing. It has got us talking about some of the more serious issues of LBing that I think have long been on everyone's mind and that cannot be a bad thing.

One final opinion related to some comments from the last few postings, I am completely against any form of website or private listing of clues that uses a password or limits public access. I think with the brains among us, our knowledge of codes, and deciphering skills we could achieve the same ends in plain sight without restricting public access. Anyone who breaks the code to deciphering the key to the online repository would then earn the right to access the clues and enter the secret society. Just an idea.