Friday, February 12, 2016

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.

I hate signs. I hate signs in the library.

There, I've said it.

Well, that's not exactly true. I do like decent wayfinding. When I see a shiny new library, with large, easy to read signs and good traffic flow patterns, that is nice. Several years ago, I did a sign renovation project at my library, replacing ragged, ratty, wordy signs with simple and inviting messages. That was so satisfying! I can't stand most handmade signs, tacked up by frustrated staff who are tired of constantly dealing with a problem. No one reads them. Can I tell you how many times I've had a patron ask me a question while standing directly in front of the sign that contains the info they are asking about? It happens a lot.

Here is a whole collection of signs of the sort that I mean: Pinterest library signs.

Does your library have signs like these?
"Please do not reshelve library materials."
"No food or drink."
"This area is a quiet zone."
"Please keep an eye on your materials, thefts are not uncommon."
"Do not bathe, shave or sleep in the bathroom."

Whenever possible, I try to avoid having these kinds of signs as they all come across negative, with a passive-aggressive quality. Putting signs up like these doesn't solve a problem, it just creates visual clutter. Oh! And bonus points for signs printed in red. With underlining. And italics. Or all caps. And exclamation points. And bars sinister. Those kind of signs are the worst!

Instead of a sign that says, "Please do not reshelve library materials," how about a sign that says, "Please, leave books here."

"No food or drink" is a tricky one. If you don't have the staff to (kindly) enforce this, then I don't see the point in putting up a sign that everyone ignores. It only reinforces how toothless that policy is. Ha!

"This area is a quiet zone." Here is another sign that really doesn't need to be around. Much better to have enough staff routinely perambulate through the library and to (gently) remind patrons if they get too rowdy.

"Please keep an eye on your materials, thefts are not uncommon." This is one of the few signs that I don't mind so much. I have seen some clever signs to this effect - and there are some studies that show a picture of an eye, or an authority figure is sometimes enough to deter theft all on its own! Don't overdo it though.

"Do not bathe, shave or sleep in the bathroom." Oh man. Here is another example of the kind of sign that I feel does no good. It makes the library feel sleazy and trashy to any casual user. And the kind of patron (probably homeless) who is in such desperate straits as to try to take a bath in a public library restroom sink isn't going to be deterred by a sign. You don't need a sign to make a policy stick, either. One shouldn't need to post signs for every possible infraction. Sure, when you have to approach a patron who is breaking this rule, it's awkward, and yes, that individual may grasp for a bit of dignity by sputtering at you, "Well! I don't see a SIGN, prohibiting bathing!" That doesn't matter. You do not need a sign. Putting up a sign is not the answer.


  1. The same goes for bookstore. Customers/patrons simply do NOT read signs. It can be incredibly frustrating!

  2. Ah, the irony of entering a place dedicated to reading. And not reading. (the sign)



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