Monday, June 15, 2009

Signs for the Use of Books

We are just completing an inventory of the signs in our building with an eye to improving customer service. In our discussions I came up with a short list of rules or guidelines that I think help make the connection between our signage and our posture toward our users. And presumably save the time of the reader.
  • Signs should be designed to help our patrons, not to attempt to do our work for us. A sign marking the location of the reference desk, for instance, is a help to those looking for reference assistance. A sign directing patrons to place used materials on a book cart, rather than on a table, is intended to do our work for us.
  • It follows that most signs should do no more than mark locations or give directions to locations in the building.
  • We should also remember that all the physical design elements should work to invite if not to inspire reflection, engagement and learning. The overall impression might be one of serenity and harmony, but with some elements of stimulation where it matters. Random clutter should be avoided. Overall attractiveness must be maintained.
  • Need and effectiveness should always be in the picture. Most signs just don't work. Many others outlive their usefulness. We found several dozen "No Smoking" signs in the building. None of us could remember ever seeing anyone smoke in the building. This appearance of effectiveness is actually the outcome of the no-indoor-smoking culture on campus. The signs have no use anymore.
  • Eliminate negativity. Nothing says "you're not really welcome here" like multiple signs beginning with the word "No". We have decided to replace "No Smoking", "No Cellphone use", and "No Groups" on our door to the main stacks area with "Welcome to the Quiet Study Area. Please respect others."

1 comment:

The Webmeister said...

While I applaud the review of signage, you miss one vital purpose of signs: they need to make your message clear. I cannot imagine that removing signs stating "Speed Limit 65" on the NYS Thruway and replacing them with a more positive "Welcome to the NYS Thruway, please drive safely" would be a good idea. Signs telling patrons not to re-shelve books were placed in order to gather use statistics. If we no longer do so, the signs should be removed, if we still need gather use statistics, then asking users to "help us do our job" may be necessary.