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Creating a User Friendly Library With Signage:

The Evaluation

A signage inventory would be a list of all the library's signs, and should include such info as size, shape, color, format, type size, installation method, and the sign's message. The purpose of each sign could also be included, for example is the sign directional, instructional or informative. The inventory could be arranged by physical location, for example all exterior signs or signs in the reference area, or by the sign's purposes.

We conducted such an inventory. Our list was thirteen pages long and contained almost 200 signs--quite a few signs for a three story building. We discovered that almost 40% of our signs were hand or type written on paper, while only 7% were professionally manufactured. Additionally, we confirmed our increase in directional questions when we realized that only 1% of our signs were directional!

Another evaluation technique involves taking pictures of existing signs, service points and hallways. Pictures allow you to see the library as users, and it's amazing what will be overlooked or taken for granted with everyday use of a building. Snapshots could also be coordinated with a signage inventory, and used as comparisons after the project has been completed.

A user survey or study can also help ascertain patron's needs and perceptions with regard to library signage. After all, if the user friendly library is designed with the user in mind, obtaining these viewpoints are essential to success.

Techniques for polling users range from relatively simple comment cards to interactive exchanges between users and librarians. For example, a comment card which specifically address signage issues could be developed, or questions about signs could be included in an annual user survey. More complex studies could involve setting up test groups to perform a wayfinding task and timing and evaluating each group.

At IUN we opted for a user survey specifically targeted to library signage. Preliminary results gave our signs a marginal grade, while answers to specific questions appear to contradict the overall rating. For example, more than 50% of respondents said the signs were adequate, yet an equal percentage indicated difficulty locating specific areas.

While we would like to think poor signage is the only possible explanation for difficulty locating specific areas, a complex floor plan and library jargon may also be responsible. O'Neill's study of the interaction between floor plan and signage concluded that signage resulted in a 13% increase in the user's rate of travel, a 50% decrease in wrong turns, and a 62% decrease in backtracking[4]. However, the presence of signage is not able to compensate for a complex floor plan, as evidenced by observation at the Library's exits. Prior to the signage project, 62% of respondents indicated the exits were easy to locate. Installing signs at the exit increased the response to 70%. Subsequent observation contradicts results in both surveys, as the exits remain a point of user confusion, and reinforces O'Neill's theory regarding complex floor plans.

Library jargon, both on the signs and in the survey, may also confuse patrons. In a 1989 College and Research Libraries article, Rachael Naismith and Joan Stein concluded that "patrons only understand 50% of what librarians say or write"[5]. This should serve as a caution both in developing a survey instrument and in determining the wording of new signs.

Investigation of resources is the final step in the evaluation process. Resources can be both human and financial. Human resources include those individuals or companies which possess the creative talent and expertise to produce signs. Perhaps there is someone in the library with these qualifications. If not, an art student from a local vocational or art school may be an option. This can be a beneficial arrangement for both the library and the student--the library will save money and the student will gain practical experience. Finally, many library and office supply manufacturers can produce signs, or perhaps the library would like to support a local artist or business.

In many cases, fiscal realities may be the primary consideration in a signage project. While this is not ideal, it is reality. Perhaps there is already a line in the budget to cover the expenses, or special funding may be necessary. Special funding may include a fund drive, a donation from the library's Friends group or other benefactor, or a grant. Since this is only an investigation of possible funding, an estimated cost will not be available until decisions about new signs and procurement are reached.

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