30 October 2010

The Interview Assignment That DID The Job

Above: the poster and web ad design concepts 
submitted during the application process.

One of the very first things I ever designed for the Alachua County Library District was an events poster and web ad before I was even hired. Part of the interview vetting process included asking potential candidates to design these two items. Images and text were provided to us to design with and certain instructions were included, for example: the poster headline (which we were to write ourselves) must include two colours of blue, and each designed piece must include at least two of the provided images. The images above were my entry for consideration.

Now, I must say that I really hate, hate, hate, doing assignments as part of an interview process. Doing a job interview assignment is akin to doing a creative concept presentation to a company to compete with others doing the very same thing in an effort to win a project contract. This practice is frowned upon by the design community because creative studios can spend a considerable amount of time and resources to generate a concept solution to the prospective client's brief non gratis when there are other paying client projects that need to be attended to as well. Then, after all that work has been completed for the presentation, all the prospective client has to do after seeing the complete selection of brilliant concepts is to not hire any of the firms presented and do it themselves or use a cheaper creative service. You may not believe it, but unscrupulous companies do this every day to designers all around the world. To combat this abuse partially, design firms often ask for a fee to pitch for a job in this manner. Unfortunately, individual job candidates don't usually have this as an option. After working hard to develop a professional portfolio, I believe the strength of my past work should speak for itself. But the way the library had their interview process set up, in order to get your portfolio shown you first had to leap through the flaming hoop of doing the assignment.

The ACLD design position was one I was really keen on having, however, so I swallowed my pride and did it. I had already been a volunteer in another capacity for the library for a year and four months by then, and I knew I could do much more for the library in a designer's capacity than with the services I provided as a volunteer. I liked the library and the people I worked with, so didn't want to jeopardize that relationship by throwing a hissy about their interview process.

In the end, it worked out. I did the “fantasy” interview assignment and was fortunate enough to be offered the job afterwards. But wait, there's more:  when the first month after I was hired came, I used my fantasy assignment solution for the real event calendar project and applied variations of it to all 11 branches of the library district. The bottom images were the result of my concept applied to the real project. In the end, I got paid for what I did, and they got what they paid for. I received a lot of compliments from branch librarians and managers for the look of the event calendars and everyone was happy. Interview/Job well done. =)

Below: the design concept later applied to the real project—a series of  tabloid, legal and letter-sized event calendar bulletins, each modified slightly for its respective library branch, based on content volume. Some branches had only a single page, while others had multiple pages, in which case the design allowed for a unique design for each page.

29 October 2010

See? I TOLD You So!

What timing my last entry was! I say this because only a few short hours after writing about the importance of applying your own library identity to its materials, I found myself walking past one of our customer service desks in the Youth section. On that desk was a pad of paper used for patrons to leave comments. I was horrified—yes, horrified—to see that the logo used was the international symbol for “library.” Not ours. I tore off a page to scan and share with you here (see above).

Thus, the importance of my earlier advice on visual identity subverted right here—at my own library! Tsk...heads should roll! 

I had hoped to say that this was a generic off-the-shelf pad ordered from some service, but I think more likely it wasn’t, due to the locations of the library name, the misalignment of the ends of the rules, capitalizing the word “Member, and not capitalizing the word “Date” at the bottom to match the capitalized “Date” at the top.

Seeing that comment pad reminded me of something though. I thought I recalled seeing an old stationery envelope from our library that used the international library symbol. I scrounged around in the office, and sure enough, I unearthed one of two remaining old envelopes to show that we too once used the international symbol as our identity mark. Shame on us! Fortunately, somewhere along the way this changed and we now use our own identity on our stationery system.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for some of our library vehicles. I have noticed they continue to use the international library symbol on them. I can understand that using the international symbol is a very quick and efficient way for people to recognize they are looking at a library vehicle—especially while it is a moving target—but, the symbol is not us. Think of it this way: if every shoe store and shoe brand in the world used the very same exact silhouette of a shoe as their logo...+ their name. That’s precisely what we’re doing with this international symbol for the library.

As for the still used comment pad and vehicle, rest assured. I will get to the bottom of this serious infraction of branding standards.

Attention Libraries: This is NOT Your Logo!

Welcome to the world of symbols and logos. The image above is the internationally accepted symbol used to indicate “library.” It is a generic symbol, when, in 1982 the American Library Association sought to create and use the resulting symbol to identify all types of libraries, hoping to increase public awareness of the institution of libraries.” The resulting symbol, however, is not the distinctive logo or brandmark of your library. Please don’t confuse the two. 

If you want your library to be recognized for it’s own distinctive brand identity, developing your very own unique mark is the place to start. Leverage your own uniqueness; build your own brand relationship with the community, starting with your identity. It is your biggest asset for visual recognition. Otherwise, you’re just: (your name here) + “library.”

An interesting side story regarding this symbol: About a month into my tenure at the ACLD, I was talking about this symbol with a librarian. I mentioned that it incorporated the implied letter “L” into it by way of the readerarm. She had never realized this. I was quite shocked; it seemed so obvious

I almost wanted to blow her mind by saying that if you worked hard enough at it, you could almost spell out the entire word “library” through implied lines and rotating the image. Go ahead, try it.

You can see examples of the National Library Symbol at the ALA Flickr website here:

You can also read more about the National Library Symbol and even download it in different formats at the ALA website here:

28 October 2010

Who Do I Serve?

As the designer for the Alachua County Library District, I serve a variety of different people both directly and indirectly. The corporate hierarchy places me under supervision of the Public Relations Assistant to the Library Administrator, who serves the Library Administrator. Beyond this, the Library Administrator serves the Library Board of Trustees, who in turn take direction from the Library District Governing Board. The board serves the greater community.

I perform my duties largely autonomously and unsupervised, but I work in tandem with my supervisor as needed and in response to some projects approved by her, while others are not. I defer to her with any questions I may have regarding corporate governance and oversight related to design issues, material and equipment purchases, workflow management and reporting, and a historical perspective on older projects that may need updating or redesigned. 

The company that pays the bill for services rendered is, of course, the client, but for those people who send me project requests, I like to think of each of them individually as my clients. These are the people whose project criteria I must fulfill and the people who I want to have walk away satisfied with my efforts.

I may be assigned projects by my boss, the Marketing and Public Relations and Manager. I might also receive requests from the Library Director either directly or through my boss. I also receive project requests from any administration staff member, from the Public Service administrators, the Literacy Coordinator, Automated Services, Circulation, or even Facilities. 

But by and large, the majority of requests I fulfill on a day-to-day basis are made by librarians of all levels, from program and event coordinators to branch managers. And in turn, the patrons are the consumer end-users of the products and services we offer and promote.

27 October 2010

A Little About MY Library

The Alachua County Library District (ACLD) is the sole provider of public library services to approximately 250,000 citizens in Alachua County, an area of approximately 965 square miles in north central Florida.

ACLD has 11 branch locations throughout Alachua County, including: in Alachua, Archer, Hawthorne, High Springs, Micanopy, Newberry, Waldo, and four locations in Gainesville. The library also operates two bookmobiles, multiple deposit collections throughout the county, and provides library service to inmates of the Alachua County Jail through an interlocal agreement with the Alachua County Sheriff's department.

In 2007-08, 70% of the county population were registered borrowers of the library. In 2008-2009, visits by patrons district-wide totaled 1,404,869--accounting for a visit rate of 5.48 per capita, and borrowing rate of 11.34 items per capita.

The 2010 collection and materials account for a circulation figure of over 3 million items. At the headquarters branch alone, average monthly circulation is between 90,000 to 125,000, monthly reference questions are between 10,000 to 30,000, public programs or events range between 8-20 per week, and public computers range between 55 to 85.

The Library District offers borrowing privileges free of charge to any resident of the State of Florida. Through reciprocal borrowing agreements, Alachua County citizens may borrow from library systems in these surrounding counties: Baker, Bradford, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette, Levy, Marion, Putnam and Union. Additionally, Alachua County citizens may borrow materials from public libraries in Nassau, St. Johns, Flagler and Hendry counties, which also offer free borrowing privileges to Florida residents.

In addition to reciprocal borrowing agreements, the Library District has contracts with the Murphree Law Library, the Matheson Historical Center and the Civic Media Center which provide for the inclusion of the collections owned and maintained by these organizations to be listed in the District’s online catalog.

The ACLD is an independent special taxing district that derives nearly all its revenue for ongoing operations and capital development from one source…property taxes. In 2007-08, ACLD local funding support per capita was the highest of the top 10 Florida libraries, at $62.09. In 2009, the ACLD Technical Services department successfully administered a materials budget of slightly over 1.6 million dollars.

In 2010, the ACLD was named a Florida Library Association Florida Library of the Year. It also helped the city of Gainesville garner one of  America's Promise Alliance's “100 Best Communities in America for Young People” by being a key component of the award criteria.

In September 2010, ACLD's Library Partnership branch was recognized by Harvard’s Bright Ideas Program for providing services to the community through the coordination of multiple agencies at a one-stop center. Bright Ideas is an initiative of the Ash Center’s Innovations in Government Program, which spotlights exemplary models of government innovation based upon four criteria (Novelty, Effectiveness, Significance and Transferability) and advances efforts to address the nation’s most pressing public concerns. The Library Partnership was selected because of its innovative concept of offering centralized social services through a neighborhood resource center combined with a full-service public library branch. Agencies refer clients to library staff who assist with online applications for benefits and jobs, provide literacy and computer training and offer other ways to assist families in need.

In March 2011, it was reported to me that the ACLD benefited in 2010 from the service of 2,495 volunteers who provided over 22,314 hours of service to the library system, equal to that of 10.5 full-time staff positions.

26 October 2010


Welcome to the Library Graphic Design blog. I'm Scot Sterling, graphic designer for the Alachua County Library District in Gainesville, Florida. I began this personal blog in order to have a place to share project images of my work and information about them with family and friends, but I also extend this invitation to others who have an interest in graphic design—especially if related to libraries. So feel welcome to comment, ask questions, and share your experiences as well.

Aside from simply showing examples of marketing communication projects I design for the library, I hope to broaden the scope of this blog to include providing other information as it comes to me as well, such as offering discussions on the following topics:
  • Creative resources for visual communicators, such as companies and websites that offer clip art or public domain images free for use by the public;
  • Website links related to educational opportunities for those who design promotional marketing vehicles for libraries;
  • Insight into equipment and tools I regularly use to produce my design work and methods used during the process;
  • Sources I derive inspiration from to generate design concepts;
  • Rants and Raves on library design and branding issues;
  • Recently found notable design items from other libraries;
  • Uncovering the mysteries of what being a communications union employee is like (or not, depending on if I decide to embark on such a venture);
  • Interesting tid-bits of news, discussions, happenings, and possibly even fabricated imaginings that may be more on the periphery of the design conversation, but that may still have a place here for anyone who works in a library environment.
I hope you'll enjoy the blog, and if so, please feel welcome to add your comments, insights, and stories about print marketing communications for libraries.