How do we prove value and improve usability within the library?


Boston Public Library Reading Room

We all hear about it, we all talk about it, and we’re all afraid it may come true unless we do something about it. But, how do we go about regaining the need for libraries and prove their value to the general public?

We have a public that naively feels that Google and Wikipedia searches have the same authoritative foundation as the Encyclopedia Britannica or Oxford Dictionary.

Why would they go to a library if they can find what they “want” in the privacy of their own home on their home computer?

This class has taught us that libraries and librarians must evolve to meet the demands of a growing technological savvy information seeking public in a variety of ways:

• Libraries need to restructure their physical layout to provide a seamless draw that invites community members off the streets, out of their homes and into a comfortable knowledge-seeking environment. The “signs” and not necessarily just physical signs (non-verbal signs too) must be non-threatening and respectful with a bit of humor and creativity when appropriate. How we restructure our libraries will have to involve the community with their input for needs and “wants.” It must be a place where people want to go.

• Library interfaces need to be redesigned with the intention of offering as much research material as possible, but accordingly for community patrons of all ages and all learning levels. Websites/OPACS can be simple, easy to read, easy to decipher and easy to navigate through with links to varying degrees of research complexity for experienced searchers. It must be an encouraging and a rewarding learning experience; one that produces an efficient and thorough satisfactory result.

• There must be a catalog that offers the ability to search in-depth subjects and topics by library staff for serious research-patrons but is should also be designed for browsing ease for those patrons who are “casually” searching for library materials. Catalogers must communicate and accept input from reference librarians and patrons.

• Stacks need subject-signage alongside catalog identification; subject designation should be equally understood by both librarian and patron. How many of us have witnessed patrons who suddenly gain a glazed look in their eyes once they are face to face with Dewey numbers? This side-by-side procedure can be easily and immediately implemented.

• Librarians need to rethink their roles and be more pro-active. Having a reference desk is still a viable (perhaps transitional?) option for reassuring those patrons who need an anchor or base station (perhaps for librarians, too). But, the future should be roving reference librarians – and, why not? Just as in retail stores, having a service person available whether or not s/he approaches the customer first makes good customer service-sense – “be approachable.”How many more questions may be asked because it’s convenient to ask? The only way to find out for librarians is be present in the midst of the stacks and among inquiring patrons.

• Creating and making use of a blog illustrated a shared networking space for ongoing communication which can be a useful tool for librarians. Librarians, whether working locally or internationally, can use blogs for gathering thoughts, comments, suggestions and ideas on various library service or research topics. It can be a bit like brainstorming with an opportunity to receive peer-feedback and constructive criticism.

Learned during summer DFW


Working with a patron

While participating in a Directed Fieldwork at the downtown branch of Seattle Public Library, I learned different protocol and routines which is understandable considering the size of the library system. But, it also means that if a change were to be suggested, it could be a slow process with ample roadblocks which is a common occurrence in large organizations (i.e.: following established and agreed to procedures and policies); there is no guarantee of implementation.

Even though many major library systems are receptive to Avant-guard ideas with the best of intentions, budgeting or funding concerns and the fear of having “it not work” can be a major roadblocks. I would be curious to see if offered justification, how willing library administrations would be to accept our aggregate ideas for merging its library system with information technology services in partnership with its community.

Learning while working in UW Special Collections

Librarians offer and are the best resources for change. Learning theory is great, but in the end, it’s the product that really counts. Application and practicality of library services and systems is where a librarian is the expert. If something is not working out in the stacks, on the reference desk, via online, or in the catalogs, who knows best why it’s not working and how the problem may be resolved. This is an approach more corporations should take to heart – listen to front-line staff.

I am presently working with a librarian/curator who recognized a current organizing process was not working and even though it has been in place for years, she’s decided to change it. Her change may be difficult for some who are uncomfortable with transitions but it makes a great deal of spatial sense and will, hopefully, prevent staff members from injuring themselves. It may be suggested that the only way the process was changed was because of the position she holds, but in the short time I have worked with her, I have found her to be receptive and open to suggestions for improvement in all areas.

Within a rapidly evolving technology information sharing world, libraries cannot accept the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The adage is archaic and its meaning threatens the very existence of libraries if they ignore the impact of technology on their patrons. Meeting expectations is not enough; libraries and librarians must challenge themselves by being willing to be in the forefront of technology and design by producing and delivering information services and products. By helping create and maintain the services and products, libraries will prove themselves as an invaluable tool and a vital part of their community.

Photo by Sven Werkmeister

Photo by Sven Werkmeister

In our Collection Development class while reviewing library policies one particular factor reared its ugly head and became a vital flaw – currency. No doubt at the time the policy was written it was functional and relevant. But while updating is listed under its criteria, it hadn’t been updated since 1996. No one (including the librarians who are employed by that library) can argue that with explosion and increasing absorption of technology into information services, this is a policy oversight that could have magnanimous repercussions for the future of any library.

In previous blogs, we all discussed the viability for creating a dining gathering space within the library where patrons could read or browse library materials. The space could occupy an interior space, maybe glassed-in area to allow conversation or a mezzanine/balcony space with an overview of the stacks. Either design would offer patrons a holistic feel toward seeking, finding and sharing information within a community space.

The policy, by not being updated, neglects to establish a direction for its collection development especially in the area which includes digital and e-resources and Internet use for its patrons.

In the near-future, I envision libraries being located in multi-use buildings or complexes with easy access for community members. The libraries will have viable working and supportive partnerships with their communities by addressing mutual needs and sharing with the responsibilities attached to those needs:

• A restaurant or coffee shop (run by local community culinary students)

• A retail store offering print and electronic supplies, gifts and clothing, too (materials created by and supporting local community writers, artists and students)

• A (huge) technology lab offering tech-classes (beginners to advanced), including basic search procedures taught by librarians

• A (huge) area for (numerous) library Internet/catalog computers

• Tech meeting rooms (similar to those at Odegaard) where patrons can gather and work on projects with tech-compatible equipment

• Tech recording rooms

• Classrooms with librarians as teachers; i.e.: how to search for materials

• Classrooms and lecture rooms for use by community members to teach and share mutual interests

• A small theater for use by the community members for small, local productions

• A Special Collections to maintain and archive local community history

• Books, books, books and magazines – sorry, but the love of holding and flipping through a book or magazine will not go away in “my” near future library

• CDs and DVDs availability which will compete with large chain conglomerate video stores

Biggest issue? $$$$ But perhaps to be proven as well spent.

What a fun final project to redesign existing print signs found in libraries!

For a couple of weeks I stared at my signs, then left them, then returned once again and stared some more; I considered each one. I contemplated how to design something that would be clear without being boring and pleasing without appearing gaudy. Both Williams’ books: The Non-Designer’s Web Book and The Non-Designer’s Type Book enriched and enlightened my designing abilities. Simple and abundant, ugly and attractive, heavy and light, noisy and tasteful, all have a place if placed correctly.

The process just needs to be practiced – and it can become addictive. I found myself in the evenings continuing to change and make adjustments – there is no definitive end to design. If I wouldn’t have posted them today, I’d be in there tonight, continuing to adjust . .

Feature Film DVDs

Venture back into my neighborhood branch library where it may be obvious that they took took design classes from the “School of Boring Signs.” Many librarians feel simple signs are adequate – but adequate works in an apathetic environment. The library can not equate itself with adequate or apathy; it must compete with online and large chain book and video stores who market their products by showing creativity in their book/video displays and advertisements.

Okay, I admit there is a couple more creative visions (tongue in cheek) on this boring sign: there’s a thin black line border and a thick upward arrow. Yikes; hold me back, I’m so excited to check-out that new video . . . not.

My sign has the same title, but each part of the title is displayed in contrasting content backgrounds showing which words may relate to its patrons. The younger generation will readily understand “DVDs” and the more mature patrons can relate to “Film.” Everyone understands what this sign indicates.

For the title background, I used a bright shocking yellow, unlike the “frivolous yellow” used for the Staff sign, and darkest black which I pulled from the photo where its apparent most DVD covers are black. These two colors together are shocking; they show passion and excitement which is what filmmakers invite us to believe we’ll experience when watching a movie.

The font was kept traditional using old style serif in large letters – no other explanation or words are necessary. I used the same bright yellow to border around a real photo of DVDs. This is my favorite sign. It’s simple, it’s clear and it’s attractive.

Uncataloged Paperbacks

 uncataloged                                                                                                         589_uncatalogedbooks 

This sign can be found in a large branch library. Signage has been an ongoing concern at this major branch. Rumor had it that the architect was adamant against signs being displayed throughout the interior of the building. His belief was that the library should be a place where people should communicate – by inquiring and asking. Unfortunately, most questions are for directions and locations because of the lack of signage.

Anyone who has visited this particular library will see that most signs are yellow 8 x 11.5 paper set in clear hard plastic stands. Every sign looks the same. One librarian assured me it was fine because they are consistent and clear. Hmmmm; is it? This is the sign I asked my husband about and he responded that he did not know what the term “uncataloged” meant.

Who cares? Does the patron care if the book is cataloged or not? Me thinks not. So what should the sign say? These are paperbacks that are not recorded in the catalog and are basically on an honor-system. If a patron takes one there is no repercussion if s/he doesn’t bring it back even though each paperback has a stamp or sticker indicating it’s from this particular library system.

My sign indicates – marvel of marvels – here are the paperbacks! The foreground is a washed out photo of stacked paperbacks. I used a cool color blue to bring the photo forward, but not enough to overpower the black modern sarif font title. The shape is rectangular to represent the shape of a book and placed at an angle for “interest”. The instructions are simple and simply stated by using a san serif mid-size font. The background color is a warm brown with red-undertones – it’s a color that is inviting and comforting, which is exactly how many of us feel about reading those handy paperbacks.

Staff Only Behind the Desk

staffonlybehinddesk1                                                                         589_librarystaff                                                                                                                                                                                

 This sign is from a small branch library and is tacked onto a door which is close to the Hold stacks and adjacent to a display counter which houses local area flyers and brochures. I understand how a patron who may step a bit more to the right of the door could end up behind the circulation desk and along side staff members.

This branch is in my neighborhood – a neighborhood that considers itself on the creative fringe for music, art, and expression. When I made this sign, I started laughing – the clip art is how (I’m sure) the staff members feel – all these free-thinking patrons just wandering around wherever they want; hey, it’s a free country, ya know! There probably isn’t one staff member who wouldn’t like to have lightening strike that patron who unknowingly seems to be “sneaking up behind” her/him while s/he’s working at the desk! (Although, I’m sure they wouldn’t admit it.)

You now know why I chose the clip-art photo and hope it’s received with the same humor with which I viewed it. I chose a bright yellow background because it’s a color that commands attention but in a cheerful or light manner. I used an old typewriter font, again to show a frivolous attitude. I envisioned an old stereotypical librarian pounding on a old typewriter with the red part of the ribbon exposed to emphasize the sign’s message!

Change Machine

 copymachinesign1                                                                                                          589_changemachine

Remember how tickled I was by this graduate library’s coin machine sign? First of all the sign itself is not indicative what it really is – a change machine. A patron has to read through a vague explanation about the location of the Microfilm and Microfiche copiers. It mentions a patron will need dimes and then explains all the various change combinations. Never once does it say, “I’m a change machine.”

My sign says, “I’m a change machine.” It also indicates what all those horrible change combinations really mean – a patron need dimes to work the copiers and it’ll spit out as many dimes as possible. Period.

I washed out a coin photo for the content background using the closest color to silver (to indicate silver coins). I chose the school’s colors of purple and, rather than using gold or yellow, I softened the second school color to a tanish-brown. I wanted it to remain in the background from the black bold title text. The border with arrows indicates something is going in and something is coming out.

The change machine font is modern, bold and round (like coins). The explanation (with a bit of humor, I hope) is old-style that is smaller with the letters close together – my attempt to shortened the explanation while making the content easy to read and understand.

Kunstlers concerns about losing civic spaces are founded, but very late in delivery. For decades, my husband and I have commented on how we love the way Europeans sit outside cafes and face the streets to people watch. I remember an older Romanian friend who intimated to us how she hated how Americans, after work, would go inside their houses, close the curtains and watch TV. In her home town, any one evening, someone would sit on a porch and start playing a guitar or some other instrument. Neighbors would gradually make their way to the home and gather around to sing or listen or talk. She said she missed that feeling of gathering.

Perhaps gathering is a cultural trait. Europeans and Asians think nothing of having to share a table or bench.

Because my husband and I wanted to recapture that European feel, years ago we bought our home in a “sort of “gathering urban neighborhood. We rarely drive and walk to local businesses and restaurants and grocery stores. We know the clerks; we know our neighbors and we all love to “gather” especially when the weather is warm.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Like Europe (but not really) many of our coffee cafes and restaurants face the sidewalks; during the summer, chairs often spill out onto the sidewalks right next to strollers. It’s rare if when we are walking down our main street we don’t see someone we know. It’s a comforting feeling.
Libraries can capture those feelings by creating what many bookstores have already implemented – in-house coffee cafes or restaurants. In fact, a one particular bookstore, it is a frequent practice for shoppers to grab magazines or books and flip through them while having a bite of lunch or cup of coffee. No one seems to mind. The only reason that I can think of that would prevent libraries from allowing patrons to eat while perusing the stacks would be a cleaning concern. They may be afraid of Cheese Puffs orange on the book bindings or jam in the childrens’ books, or worse yet a cola spilling onto the computer keyboard. Honestly none of us would take pleasure in finding an old tuna sandwich between Volumes 2 and 3 of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

I did enjoy Kunstlers’ abhorring descriptions of the large chain stores in neighborhoods. It makes me think of Frank Lloyd Wright who is quoted as saying, “The good building is not one that hurts the landscape, but one which makes the landscape more beautiful than it was before the building was built.”

Walking around a graduate library with my camera, I spyed this sign on a change machine. It presents every possible coin combination excluding pennies. It struck me as comical by explaining how many dimes equal 2 quarters – remember this is a graduate library . . .



This Seattle Public Library sign is not as humorous, but could be confusing for someone not familiar with library terminology. I asked my husband if he knew what “uncataloged” meant – he said, “No, but isn’t it spelled wrong?”



Here are a few other signs that show a longing for style and design.

audiobooks1         teenarea                                                   nobicycles

Forgot to upload these shots of my blog with new vibrant colors.

Sharai came over one day and showed me how to change the content background and text color. We ended up laughing at one combination (blue and red) because it was so hideous and so difficult to read, it occurred to me that I could have written nonsense and no one would have known otherwise!


Using CSS to change the colors


A bit bright, but at least it's legible

Check out “The Man Who Said No to Dewey: Marshall Shore, Maricopa County Library District” and “Dewey? At this Library With a Very Different Outlook, They Don’t“. Is this swinging the pendulum extremism for addressing the needs of a community? Marshall Shore listened to his users and purposely designed a library that resembles a bookstore by dumping Dewey and shelving books (generally) by subject.

Marshall Shore Audio Interview on NPR – “Arizona Library Shuns Dewey System

Perhaps for public libraries, this may work, but in larger academic research libraries, I wonder how it would be organized to the extent of being able to know what shelf to go to and what place on that shelf and, would it always be there in that same place if I went back in two months. Large bookstores are great for browsing but when it comes to research or looking for a particular topic, I can’t imagine browsing – who has the time!

Take a close look at the left sidebar – there’s a link to a list of New York Times Bestsellers. In the center content section, the first box is MyLibraryBookstore which allows the patron to buy materials:

Maricopa County Library District



Commercializing libraries by adding amenities such as restaurants or giftshops to attract patrons is good marketing, but each library has to seriously evaluate what its purpose or mission entails. Is a library’s information up for sale? Is it wholly based on entertainment, recreation and just browsing?

Shouldn’t information sources be free and available to patrons for answering questions and researching topics? If the answer is a hybrid-library-bookstore-design, Maricopa County Library takes home the Oscar. But, if it takes trial and error or if it’s just a fad, who can afford to experiment?


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