There is a romantic notion attached to wandering the stacks of the library, aimlessly lost in a sea of books for hours on end. But for many of our cardholders, efficiency is the name of the game. They’re hoping to pop in, find what they need, and get out as quickly and painlessly as possible.

And this is a key marketing opportunity for libraries. An efficient and well-planned system of wayfaring signs can help keep your busy customers happy…and can make it easier for them to discover parts of your collection they might not know exist!

  1. Start with a simple design. Good signage isn’t fancy… it’s functional. The best signs are printed in an easy-to-read font in a neutral color with a plain background that makes the words pop. A clean design will also add longevity to your signs and keep them from looking outdated.
  2. Ditch the library jargon when possible.  In 2012, a reference librarian at the University of Berkley reviewed more than fifty library usability studies to pinpoint library terms which are generally not understood by customer. His review uncovered problems with terms like “database”, “e-journals”, “periodical”, “serial”, and “reference.” Whenever possible, we should strive to be clear when we create our wayfaring signs. Instead of saying “reference”, you can use “research.” Instead of “periodicals”, say “magazines.” Change the sign above your reference desk to say “Ask us a question here!” The sign at your circulation might read “Check out your books here!”
  3. Less is more.  It seems counterintuitive, but you don’t actually want to label every single shelf in every single section of your library. One sign letting customers know they’ve entered the area where biographies are kept or where DVDs are available is plenty,  even if you have a long shelf.  Too many signs are a distraction–the eye doesn’t know where to look and the brain gets overloaded.
  4. Watch customer movement patterns and put you a little extra effort into signs in high-traffic areas.  Our library locations do big business in new release DVDs and holds. We want to make sure that customers can find those two key areas as soon as they walk in the door of any branch. Your signs are there to make life easier for your customers.
  5. Be flexible. Good signage is always a work in progress and can be changed as customer needs change. Don’t be afraid to periodically re-evaluate your signage.
  6. Arrows are your friend. Moderation is key, but a well-placed arrow can help ease confusion and build confidence in your more timid customers. We recently started adding arrows to end-cap signs, and it appears our customers now have an easier time finding materials and are leaving with more items–and a happy grin on their faces.
  7. Consider standardizing signs and signage terminology for all locations. The advantage is that your customers will know exactly what to look for, no matter which branch they visit.
  8. The best wayfaring device is your staff! Train your staff to look for signs of confusion in a customer. If they spot a customer who walks around directionless for a long time or who keeps looking around, trying to identify a member of the staff, they can delight and surprise the cardholder by gently approaching them and offering to help find what they need. It sounds simple but there is such a push in modern society toward self-sufficiency that we often forget, sometimes our customers need help!

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