I have a love/hate relationship with library signage.

Part of my job as a marketing professional in a major metropolitan public library is to conduct signage evaluations and to make changes or improvements to the signs in our 41 locations. As a customer, I know how helpful the right kind of signage can be, and my perspective as a customer helps me to understand the importance of the task. But to be honest, it’s probably one of my least favorite job requirements. That’s because I’ve found that signs seem like a simple thing but are, in truth, very complicated. My coworkers and my cardholders have passionate feelings about them.

Good signage serves as a silent employee to draw cardholders to your location, direct traffic inside your building, and answer basic customer questions. Signs can actually be a part of your library’s overall strategy and should certainly be worked into your marketing strategy each year. Ask yourself: What are your library’s overall goals, and how can signs help to meet those goals?

The task of tackling your library’s signage is much easier when you have brand specifications documented. The color, size, and language should be consistent throughout the building and multiple locations. Once you have that document created and have decided how signage will help you to execute your library’s goals, here are five tips to keep in mind as you work on signage for each building.

Tip #1: Less is more. Too many signs in a branch, particularly in a small location, can create clutter and can actually cause confusion. And too much signage can actually annoy your cardholders, particularly if most of your signs are bombarding them with marketing messages. Just as white space works to create breadth and depth for a website or a graphic, well-spaced signage in a branch creates flow. About 75 percent of the signs in your library locations should be wayfaring only–directing cardholders to important service points in the building. The other 25 percent can be selective marketing–promoting services and items that are of interest to your cardholders or that might be of interest to them, based on their patterns of checkout.

Tip #2: Match the signage display to the user of each physical space. Make sure that in your children’s area, the signs, shelves, and computers are all lowered to be a child’s level. Create larger signs for the section that holds your large print items. Place teen signs where the teens hang out, like near charging stations or computers. Use a combination of large and small signs to blend with the space requirements in your library and to keep your signage from becoming monotonous, without being overpowering.  Use a bold font and keep colors and designs simple.

Tip #3: Your library materials make the best displays. Use them instead of signs. Think about how your local bookstore will display books. They often turn them front-facing. Why? Book covers are a visual cue and publishers spend thousands of dollars creating beautiful and eye-catching covers. Use these designs to create a visually pleasing display instead of a sign. A good display will not even need a sign–it should be obvious to the cardholder what you are trying to market to them.

Tip #4: Use customer-friendly, positive language. Cardholders prefer conversational language in all our marketing, so it makes sense to incorporate that into your signage. Some examples are:

Replace self-check or circulation with checkout.

Replace reference with information.

Replace periodicals with magazines.

Replace juvenile with children’s and teens.

I know this is controversial but I’m saying it anyway. Drop the Dewey decimal system from your end panels and arrange your fiction and nonfiction items alphabetically. And incorporate positive language into your signs. Don’t tell customers what they can’t do. Rather, tell them what they can do or how they can enjoy a particular space or item in the collection.

Tip #5: Don’t forget the signs on the outside of your building. Your main sign should say LIBRARY in large letters. Save the actual name of the building, particularly if it’s a long name, for smaller letters by the door. Make sure your open and close times are large and clear and in an easy to spot location. The same goes for the signage for any outdoor services like book drops or drive-thru windows. Make sure the signs are as large as is allowed by your local government.

Bonus tips: Don’t rely on signs to convey everything you want to tell the customer. Hire staff who are willing to speak with customers and show customers where items are located with patience and kindness. And set a schedule for re-evaluating and refreshing your signage–once a year, if you can handle it.

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