library signs are librarian metadata

I interlibrary loaned a book called “Life Style” by Canadian designer Bruce Mau after enjoying his book “Massive Change.” I knew that Mau was involved with some of the planning of the Seattle Public Library but didn’t expect to see a statement about library signage that would resonate so strongly.

It is not without heart-breaking irony that we acknowledge a near-total lack of legibility in our collective repository of typographic history – the typical library. In the beginning, there was one problem, books, and one solution, shelves. When you go into the library now, there are literally hundreds of signs and pieces of furniture provided to deal with each new format. Everything from magazines to DVDs has a cabinet, a users’ manual, an inventory, and an interface. The result is a massive communication problem. While librarians themselves should be commended for their improvisational tactics, overall the patrons confront a constant meddle, with one organizational layer of information Scotch-taped over another. The time has come to imagine a new way. Life Style p. 242 – Bruce Mau

It is pretty easy to come to the conclusion that Dewey Decimal System ® signs in our buildings are metadata (or at the very least, representations of metadata) but what about the operational, directional, and prohibitory signs?

They’re metadata about librarians. They provide information about librarians’ attitudes and priorities.

How are the signs in your library describing you?

10 thoughts on “library signs are librarian metadata”

  1. Our signs say, “We have a problem with smoking in the library.” (not true) What they don’t say is, “The books are over here, behind this wall and up the stairs you can’t see right now.”

  2. And don’t forget all the flyers, bookmarks and takeaways informing patrons about every possible thing that may, or may not, be important to them. Libraries need to spend less time making promotional items for every situation, especially the ‘exception’ situation that may arise.

  3. Librarians overthink everything. Our library likes to put various colored dots on children’s books, denoting everything from historical fiction to specific holidays. Then we print and post signs explaining what all the colors represent.

  4. Libraries are often accused of over thinking, but imagine if we asked how or where a particular subject or specific book was located and they could not inform us. The library is meta-data and with specific reason and is a necessary requirement in order for the system to run quietly and without fuss.

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