When I am on the road visiting or working, one of the first things I do is take a look at the local library. As a habit, I start counting “NO” signs. No Cellphones, No Tech Support, No Loud Talking, No Horseplay (one of my personal favorites), plus about a thousand others. Has this ever improved patron behavior or made patron management easier? I would be willing to bet my pathetically low paycheck that it does not.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been in meetings or discussions where someone has suggested that to fix something, we should hang up a sign. (As if this were the only option.) Here are some of my rules on library signage that everyone should think about BEFORE they run to the computer to make another useless sign:
Signage is For Patron Direction/Assistance
Signs should be helping patrons find things. That means books, bathrooms, copy machines, and tax forms. Will that mean you will never get questions on those items? OF COURSE NOT! Signs are NOT a substitution for patron service. I have personally shown people the copier HUNDREDS of times. It is often the same people I showed yesterday. Signs augment and assist librarians in delivering service. They are not substitutes for asking for help finding something.
Avoid Library Jargon
Stick to the simplest terms possible. Don’t assume that civillians will know what Interlibrary Loan or Circulation means. Personally, I think that any visitor to the library has the right to ask any staff member any question. Of course that means that we will do a lot of redirecting, but it should never be the patron’s responsibility to figure out where to go.
Too Many Signs = Information Overload
One library I visited in my travels had no less than ten signs at the checkout station stating all sorts of policies on lending limits etc. All good information, but absolutley lost in a crowd of messages. Everyone still asked about policies and limits. No one noticed the signs. Bottom line: Is a sign the best way to communicate this particular information?
No Negative or Hostile Tones
Using the word NO or a negative tone sets an unfriendly vibe in a library. I feel unwelcome when all I see are signs telling me what I can’t do. Try postive messages. A sign saying “No Cellphones” doesn’t give people an option. A sign saying “Please take phone calls in the library foyer” is a better alternative.
Think Functional Rather Than Pretty
One library I visited had lovely purple signs on a blueish background. Unless I was directly looking at the sign, it was not visible. They were pretty enough as long as you were directly in front of the sign and had perfect vision. Signs should have high contrast and be large enough to read from a distance. Don’t go crazy with weird fonts or colors. Readibility is essential.
Don’t think that signs are the answer to all library problems. They aren’t. Library staff is there for service regardless of signs.
Signing off for now!
Pinterest has a bunch of library signs to consider: Click here for some examples.
Also, I love this article from Mental Floss on library rules.