04 May 2012

Library (Signage) Helps You Find Your Way

Can't find your way? Let the Library show you!
As a point of fact, our library is a fantastic resource for information and a wellspring of knowledge. There are some things it does well, and others that, shall we say, does a little "too well." Case in point, showing visitors the way out of our downtown Headquarters Library. 

Since my arrival at the library a couple of years ago, I've always marveled at how many EXIT signs (and derivatives thereof) keep popping up to point visitors out through the appropriate front door exit. Every few months, I go back to our lobby in part simply for my amusement as well as to more specifically count those signs:

One...two...ten...eighteen...more...are you kidding me? For four doors?

I, probably like a couple others (I'm sure we're an endangered species), will actually camp out to watch the traffic flow, paying careful attention to what visitors look at as they enter and exit the building. I want to see where their eyes are going, what catches their attention first, second, last. The interaction between visitor and the environment varies, of course, but by and large most people have been successfully "trained" to pass through a "metal detector" looking structure that scans for RFID stickers in front of one of the doors. Other visitors, however, probably consider the device an obstruction of some kind and decide to avoid it in favour of two other doors that appear to be more accessible--until they read the sign(s) on them.

Our lobby has four sliding glass doorways, two of which are identified as fire exits only, one as an entrance as indicated on both sides, and one as an exit, also indicated on both sides. In addition to that, library staff have printed numerous 8.5x11 pages to mount on windows, walls, and pedestals with ropes attaching them together that act as a funnel to guide visitors through to the RFID tag detector and the only door specified for exiting. The mass result looks like the photo above, compiling an impressive 20 or so signs that say "EXIT."

Why so many? Is it that difficult for visitors to find the exit? The obvious answer must be "yes!" otherwise some of those signs wouldn't be there. But the resulting visual clutter is an unsightly environmental chaos that looks tacky too. 

The challenge is how to fulfill city code requirements for emergency door access signage, yet reduce the overall number of signs it takes for the lowest common denominator of visitors to successfully navigate their way to the appropriate door. Just like "conduct code" signage, a balance needs to be struck between what is "reasonably sufficient," and what is "overkill."

Trust me, we have our crack team of experts working on it.


  1. We have a similar problem, only not with exits. Our problem is with cell phones. We've put up signs that say "Don't be a cell phone turkey; turn it off in the library." The picture shows a turkey with cell phones for tail feathers. We've placed the signs in strategic places where people stand to talk. We encourage them to sit on benches in the foyer away from where people are working. However! They will stand right in front of a sign and talk! It's like when they place their cell phones up to their ears, their eyes stop working. Any suggestions on a better way to handle our problem?

  2. I've found there to be a predictable conversation thread that typically occurs during the discussion and review process for instructional signage. It usually goes something like this:

    Person A: "I put up a sign that told people what to do/not do, and they don't do it."
    Person B: "Make the words bigger. They'll notice it more."
    Person A: "I already did that, but they still do what they were doing before I put up the sign."
    Person B: "Hmmm, maybe you just need to make the sign bigger!"
    Person A: "I did that too, and they still don't pay attention to it."
    Person B: "Maybe it's in the wrong location. Try a new place."
    Person A: "I did that too. It is right where the offending behaviour usually takes place. There's no way they can miss it."
    Person B: "Maybe we need to make the message stronger. More/less words, add a graphic image, make the sign even LARGER, put up more signs EVERYWHERE!"
    Person A: "If I do that, we won't be able to see the company logo or the wall paper any longer!"

    The conclusion is that no matter what you do or how you do it, there will ALWAYS be a certain segment of the population that will intentionally ignore (and plead ignorance or simple defiance to) the signs you place indicating what to do/not do. So, there is no definitive, guaranteed single answer except THAT observation. Changing behavior has to be a part of the educational process, and that process has to involve a variety of tools, from conduct signs, to reinforcing the message through other behavioral modification means. Enforcement methods of the rules has to be part of the design created by library management and vigilantly carried out consistently by staff in order for the enforcement to work. And no sign--no matter how many big, brightly coloured, with blaring letters you put on it--will be anything more than a band-aid patch on the wall if you don't actively support that message verbally and through other measures to reinforce it.

  3. Thanks so much. I intend to share your comments with our staff. Maybe that will help. By the way, loved the dialogue you gave. Sounds just like what we go through.

  4. Not long after taking the photo above, I emailed it to one of our managing staff with the message: "I thought you might like the view.", and she had this to say:

    "I haven’t laughed all day, in fact all week! And now I can’t stop. And yes, I’ve talked to [name deleted] about this months ago but I guess a picture says a thousand words—so maybe he’ll get the message now!

  5. For your consumption, I recently came across an insightful point-of-view article about signage here: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA504382.html