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Creating a User Friendly Library With Signage:

The Answers

What does "user friendly" mean for libraries?

The librarians at IUN began asking ourselves that question. A ten year search (1983-1993) of the library literature was conducted and revealed that user friendly is primarily used to describe library computers. Based upon this research, a number of conclusions are possible:

  1. That librarians are very literal in their use of the term
  2. That librarians already think their libraries are user friendly
  3. That we at IUN are so brilliant we have struck upon a new concept
  4. That the existence of user friendly libraries is top secret
  5. That user friendly library is an oxymoron.

Now, while all of these are possible, only #3 is definitely true! Regardless of the lack of references to the user friendly library, a library can be user friendly.

The user friendly library anticipates and reacts to user's needs for easy and convenient access to the library's collections, resources and services. Ideally, there are no physical, technological, or fiscal barriers between the patron and the information needed. This is not to say that a user friendly library is self-service, but that patrons have a right to use the library without having to ask for assistance, as suggested by Reynolds and Barnett in their book Signs and Guiding for Libraries.[3] Based upon that definition, few libraries would qualify as easy to use or designed with the user in mind.

The librarians at IUN began to seriously consider if our library was user friendly. The proliferation of makeshift computer work stations, a planned reorganization of the reference area to accommodate more technology and an increase in directional questions, caused us to conclude that improvement was needed. Before proceeding, we needed to identity the components of a user friendly library. What kind of things make a library user friendly?

  1. Accessible, well-lit building
  2. Simple floor plan and stack arrangement
  3. Easily identifiably service points
  4. Clear, easily understandable directional, informational and instructional signs
  5. Friendly, knowledgeable staff
  6. Comfortable, ergonomically designed work/study areas
  7. Adaptive technologies for users with special needs

After looking over these components, we decided that, while there was room for improvement in all of these areas, we would have to focus on one area. We decided to focus on signage for a number of reasons:

  1. When we looked at our building we discovered an almost total lack of signs, and existing signs seemed to be haphazardly erected on a reactionary basis.
  2. Improved signage might alleviate patron anxiety by helping patrons feel orientated.
  3. Proper signage could lower directional questions and compensate for the planned reorganization of reference
  4. Safety

Signs are an important, though often overlooked, part of a user friendly library. As conveyors of quick information, signs are a form of communication between the library and its users. Signs can also be a form of public relations, conveying a visual impression of the library and creating "corporate image." Good signs are good communication, and good communication creates a positive public image.


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P.O. Box 30001
Las Cruces, NM 88003-8001
Phone: 505-646-0111