Photo Courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Has your library physically reopened?

I am collecting the reopening experiences of library staff members of all levels. Whether your library is now doing curbside or drive-thru service, books by mail or in-person interactions, how are you, your coworkers, your supervisors, and your patrons handling new reopening restrictions? All comments are anonymous. I may use your comments in a future episode of the Library Marketing Show or a future blog post. Thank you in advance.

When the pandemic forced libraries around the world to close their physical buildings, there was one major library marketing tactic that instantly became obsolete… signage. Suddenly, all the effort we put into the size of the sign, its design, and its placement vanished.

In my days working at a public library, signage was the most common marketing request from my fellow library staffers. It was a big deal. Everyone wanted a sign or a poster for their program. They wanted to put their sign in as many locations as possible.

When COVID-19 forced libraries to close, library marketing abruptly shifted to digital tactics. But now, as libraries move toward reopening, the debate over signage has returned to professional groups and library staff discussions. Signage is now crucial for communicating new rules about mask-wearing, social distancing, and time limits within physical library spaces.

In the old days, I would have encouraged staff to use less signage and do more talking with patrons. That’s not possible right now.

But we can still think strategically about how we place our signage, how it is designed, and how much of it we use. Here are some tips for planning your signage as your library moves toward reopening physical spaces.

Place the most important signs at the entrance, along with a staff member. My favorite neighborhood grocery store is small, like many library branches. I’ve been studying their signage and customer service model during the pandemic, and I think it is easily transferable to the library world.

The grocery store has a sign at the entrance informing patrons they must wear a mask and maintain social distance. They also have one masked staff member who stands six feet from the door, rain, or shine. This staff member points out the sign and ask the customer if they have any questions.

It’s incredibly simple but effective. It gives customers a chance to ask questions in a safer location–the exterior, where there is better ventilation and where it is easier to practice social distancing. It reduces staff interaction inside the store. Libraries might consider following this model to ensure that everyone entering the branch understands the expectations.

Map out your visitor’s journey through your branch. You’ll want to make it easy for people to understand how to get to your key service points while following the new social distancing rules. To do that, draw a bird’s eye view of your space. Then map out how you want people to move.

Walk the path yourself several times, noting where you need to put signs to maintain traffic flow. At each sign location, note how much space you have to work with and the color of the surface background. Do you need posters? Do you need laminated signs? Will you need plexiglass holders? Will you need double-sided tape? Then gather your supplies, make your signs, and place signage to facilitate a smooth flow of traffic.

Keep the map and the signage plan in a location where all staff can access it, so anyone can replace a sign when needed.

Create signs to make first-time visitors feel more at ease. Though the new rules may seem clear to you, or even to regular patrons, don’t underestimate the confusion your first-time visitors may experience. Some people will be unfamiliar with where to go or what to do when they arrive at your branch. Simple instructions such as, “Check out this way” or “Return Books Here” can make the difference between smooth traffic flow and potential bottlenecks.

Use color coding. Maybe you already have a color-coding system that your customers are familiar with. Use those colors as part of your new reopening signage to make your visitors feel at home in your library. Color coding of signage can be especially helpful in libraries with many departments and several floors of service.

If you don’t use color coding, pick a universally familiar scheme like red, yellow, and green to create a sense of direction within your branch. Use consistent color-coded signage from the entrance of your branch right through to the checkout to keep the flow of patrons going and minimize questions.

Use icons. Icons are common symbols that everyone can understand. Use icons with your text-based signage to make the new rules easy to interpret for everyone.

Use your digital signage. Libraries often use their digital signs to promote programs and collections. But you can also use those displays to communicate your new reopening restrictions.

Digital signage might also be used to encourage people to use an alternative service method like a drive-thru at a nearby branch. Post your new open and closing hours or updated information about the wait time to use a computer on your digital signage.

Don’t forget to use digital signage to help visitors understand the value of your library. A slide that demonstrates the online services your library provided during the pandemic will help your visitors to understand that your library staff was working even when your building was closed.

Be flexible. You may have done all your homework and put together an amazing signage plan. But it’s hard to predict every situation. None of us know exactly how people will interpret your signage until they enter your branch. Be ready to make changes to your plan to solve customer flow problems.

Related Help

Tips for Dealing With Angry Patrons When Your Library Reopens

Seven Cheap and Clever Ways to Bridge the Digital Divide and Promote Your Library to People Who Don’t Have Internet Access

Latest Book Reviews

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson.

Westering Women by Sandra Dallas

Find more 60-second Book Reviews here.

Have a topic suggestion for Super Library Marketing?

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on the “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.