I've read the books, attended the webinars, and visited the libraries that are doing it right. And what I've learned is library signage, especially when it comes to wayfinding design, isn't so easy when both top-down and bottom-up approaches are necessary to understand user needs, develop an intelligent system, and obtain high quality resource support and branded materials. A lot of people need to be on board.
So I decided to be practical, to start where I could start: the endcaps of our main collection shelving with pesky, rounded metal brackets that wrinkled and chewed the edges of whatever was inside. To make things worse, some signs were just scotch-taped to each row of shelving, corners curling unpleasantly, along the back wall.
Definitely time for an upgrade.
I brought my handy screwdriver from home, stole a red measuring tape from a colleague, and purchased 48 acrylic sign holders with 500 circle Velcro dots. (Turns out, I didn't need that many.)
Before all of that, though, my staff assisted me in performing a Sign Audit of the Library, including observations of the entrances, Circulation & Reference Departments, stacks, Teen Room, restrooms, and technology-use spaces. We also observed patron behavior.
The Sign Audit was completed by inventorying the Library's existing signs while assessing their condition and effectiveness in aiding patrons and staff in orienting themselves with different areas of the library, its policies, and technical instructions on using the library’s resources. What we found right away was that an over-abundance of signs contained an over-variety of designs, fasteners, holders, colors, capitalizations, fonts, font size, and word content. The lack of a central map or key identifying locations of materials upon entering the Library from either of the two entrances was also identified as a barrier to access. Patrons either asked staff where whole collections were located or, when looking confused, were asked by staff what they were looking for. Others just wandered, which is great when you are in the mood for spontaneous discovery, but not so great when a sign is outdated or incorrect.
It was all inconsistent and a lot overwhelming, for everyone.
By completing this inventory in February and March of 2022, we were able to observe:
patrons who hadn't visited the Library since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic in March 2020
new patrons visiting the Library for the first time
the usefulness of existing signage in helping all patrons find materials and use resources
As anticipated, both returning and new patrons expressed visible confusion. Not great to see, but this design-thinking approach helped us meet our goal of gathering information to help inform future sign improvements. In total, our Sign Audit was18 pages long and included both written commentary with photographs and sign identification tables like the one below.
Although the Library currently lacks a formal Style Guide, there are fonts and color combinations saved, agreed upon, and used within our organization's shared Brand Kit on Canva. There are 18 brand colors: 6 for the Main Brand and 6 each for the Summer and Winter pallets. These colors are used by the Marketing Department to develop graphics and designs to promote Library programs and services both within the physical building and online. The brand fonts include League Spartan for headings and Glacial Indifference for both subheadings and body text.
According to Google Fonts, "League Spartan is The League Of Moveable Type's interpretation of Matt Bailey's Spartan, a typeface based on early 20th century American geometric sans-serifs." Fonts Arena describes Glacial Indifference by Hanken Design Co "a geometric sans-serif inspired from Bauhaus fonts, and has Futura similarities." These fonts have clean lines, are approachable, and can be easily read at distances, all features that are widely sited in the literature as vital for effective sign communication.
While anyone on the Library staff with Canva account access can create materials with at least the same colors and fonts, only the Marketing Coordinator and myself are using Canva's resources on a consistent basis. Instead, many other staff members are still using Microsoft Word and Publisher, which require that both the League Spartan and Glacial Indifference fonts be downloaded and installed. Although this isn't difficult, the larger barrier is a cultural mindset or blindness to mismatched signage within the Library.
In designing the endcap signs, I assigned colors to each of the collections shelved within the main stacks bookcases, reusing the Main Brand blue for visual balance and selecting a red for Mystery to match our genre stickers. Our Fiction section is genrefied, but due to the layout and space limitations of our physical building, only the Mysteries received endcap signs - Romance and Sci-Fi/Fantasy are shelved against the wall without endcaps. Yellow and red was incorporated into the New Nonfiction and New Fiction signs to match the New stickers used on recently acquired acquisitions. The goal was to use color to visually signify and guide readers through the shelves based on associations.
I created the Nonfiction signs first and based their design on an example shared in the article Signage by Design: A Design Thinking Approach to Library User Experience by Edward Luca and Bhuva Narayan (2016). What I liked most about this design was its simplicity and the clear distinction between the book contents to the left vs the book content to the right.
Each Canva file contains two pages that are mirror images of each other. The numbers at the bottom reflect the numbers of the assigned bays of shelves. When there is a shifting project or changes in collection shelving location, it is simple to access the files, make a change, and replace the sign on the encap.
As previously mentioned, installing the signs required a screw driver (to remove the brackets), a measuring tape (to ensure uniform spacing), and velcro dots (to adhere the acrylic sign holder to the endcap). The decision to use velcro was two-fold:
The signs can easily be taken on and off the endcap.
Past paper signs - especially the ones in the metal brackets, would be ripped and crinkled as they were slipped in and out. Library staff also complained about breaking fingernails and dry skin on the metal.
The signs are impermanent - if we want them to be.
I did not want to drill additional holes into the endcap unnecessarily. If there ever was a full-library renovation or redesign, options are left open.
The end result:
Glacial Indifference Font
League Spartan Font
Luca, E. & Narayan, B. (2016.) Signage by design: A design thinking approach to library user experience. Weave: Journal of Library User Experience, (1)5.
Polger, M. A. (2022). Library signage and wayfinding design: Communicating effectively with your users. American Library Association.