Nationwide Signage Program in Mexico

A few years back I wrote about uniform signage in the libraries of Veracruz, Mexico.

On a recent tour of some libraries in and around Mexico City I learned more about their signage program and am still impressed.

Future Medium everywhere!

The Biblioteca de México promotes standardized signs in all Mexican libraries. The graphic design is done centrally and signs are distributed around the country. Not only does this ensure professional looking signage in each library, it ensures a consistent look and feel across all libraries.

What does it matter if all libraries signs look the same? When people visit multiple libraries they’ll instantly be familiar with something in each location, increasing their comfort and confidence. This is a way for all libraries to work together to facilitate use.

Comments in QR Codes Post

Lots of good comments in yesterday’s post about QR Codes. As usual, Eli Neiburger sums up my thoughts better than I can:

What struck me about this is how much we hear about what libraries are doing with QR codes, and how little we hear about what patrons are doing with QR codes.

Michael Stephens’ asks a good question:

“…has any library or information organization actually researched successful use and adoption?”

Why the QR Code is Failing

People will not adopt a technical solution that serves to replace a manual task, if that solution is less efficient than the manual task it replaces. How could we think that QR codes for marketing would work any better than CueCat? Did we not learn the first time?


Hartford Public Library Promo Video

The first 30 seconds of Hartford Public Library’s new promo video raised a big red flag: Where are the people in the library?

My worry was put to rest. Picking up the pace, the video does a fantastic job describing the library by highlighting what it does and what people can do there. There’s no verbal mention of the collection or even specific library services. The video aims higher.

Revamping Reference

Our profession has known for a long time that the traditional reference model is flawed. Constance Mellon coined the term library anxiety in 1986, reporting that students literally felt shame when approaching librarians for help. Yikes. That’s a strong feeling, one we don’t want librarians to evoke.

Nonetheless, the typical effort to improve the reference user experience has been meager. While many of us have been through customer sensitivity training, reminding people about how they should behave is no replacement for strategic hiring practices and considered design. Even genuinely friendly and caring librarians will be approached less if they’re hidden behind the typical imposing and unfriendly reference desk. The library literature is filled with articles about roving reference, yet at the majority of libraries I visit I still find reference librarians sitting behind hulking desks peering into computer screens, essentially ignoring what’s going on around them.

Prized possessions
Of course, big desks that create an antagonistic dynamic aren’t the only problem; people conducting research in libraries are less mobile than they once were. Not only do they have their papers, library items, and a coffee carefully positioned, they also often have a laptop, a phone, and a music device on display as well. While it’s one thing to leave a pile of index cards unattended, it’s a much riskier proposition to abandon an expensive piece of hardware.

Reference librarians can help these anchored folks by doing what they should be doing for all library patrons: finding them when they need help. Why don’t they?

The hard sell
Some librarians are afraid that pro­active reference is bothersome to patrons—too aggressive, a crass retail approach. If done badly, it can be all of those things. Quality reference work takes more than just being able to construct a complicated Boolean search; it takes social intelligence, too. Just the way librarians develop a command of information resources, they should also develop a greater understanding of people. Though some people are naturals, it is possible to develop the skills it takes to know whether a patron wants to be approached and how to engage a variety of patrons.

Some librarians also think an emphasis on collaboration diminishes the librarian’s expertise. However, every good interaction already features a collaborative reference interview. We should embrace this, and our furniture should support it.

Experiment with alternatives
Reference desks don’t have to be antagonistic. Boomerang-shaped desks with a computer monitor and an easily shared keyboard between two chairs set the stage for a collaborative interaction. Folding patrons into the research process acknowledges their contribution. This respectful gesture—and the other ways to consciously consider your reference setup—can ameliorate library anxiety and foster an engaging experience.

With the easy-to-use mobile computing options now available, roving reference makes more sense than ever. I spoke with Katherine Penner (Univ. of Manitoba’s Dafoe Lib.) and Martha Flotten (Multnomah Cty. Lib. [MCL]) about how they’ve experimented with Apple iPhones and iPads to deliver ­reference.

Flotten reports that they’re answering different types of questions away from the reference desk and that “librarians have mind-blowing reference tran­sactions weekly,” as when one MCL librarian was able to engage a patron deeply by putting her in charge of navigating library resources through an iPhone. Penner notes that their mobile reference project has changed the way students communicate with librarians: they’re now more comfortable approaching librarians in the stacks. These devices signal cultural relevance, and we shouldn’t ignore the benefits of using tools that impress patrons.

Designing reference service
There’s no need for your library to rob reference librarians of their desks immediately. Instead, first examine your current reference service. How did it get the way it is? Was it deliberately designed, or just the result of a series of small default decisions? Next, determine what sorts of information needs your patrons have. What do they want to know? What’s the best way for them to get help? You’ll probably find that you’re doing some stuff right and that there are things you could improve.

Brainstorm some solutions and make a plan to try out the most promising ideas. In this prototyping phase, ask people to get comfortable and learn about the new things they’re trying before they pass judgment. Afterward, everyone should report back, determine what worked/what didn’t, and put the good stuff into practice. Finally, consider these same questions anew in a few months, in light of what you’ve learned, and keep innovating.

This first appeared in my LJ column The User Experience.

Space Issues

Is the furniture in your library being used as originally intended?

How planners probably imagined people using this space


How people are actually using this space

Sometimes people use library spaces in unintended ways. This behavior can expose design flaws and offer clues for improvements.

Abandoned Factory Library Greenhouse

Yesterday I enjoyed a behind the scenes look at the Biblioteca Vasconcelos’ greenhouse and it is amazing. Sitting adjacent to the library it is connected via the library’s garden. There’s talk of turning it into a reading room with wireless access. !

Here are some full color views of this amazing and unique library space.

Knows Me By Name

The ever-interesting Suzanne Chapman reports about her UX Photobooth 2011 project:

Library Voices

Library Voices

I Visited the Kenton Branch of Multonomah County Library & Liked It.

The space has a really nice feel due in part to pleasant natural light and smart furniture. Without looking temporary, the desks and stacks seem modular and I bet the space could easily be configured in different arrangements.

One service desk. No chair for the librarians. Love it. If I remember correctly, this is one of MCL’s branches doing a good job with reference beyond the desk.

MCL has a great collection called “Lucky Day.” The items are popular books exempt from the usual reserves queue. This is a fun idea that puts a positive spin on someone’s experience when they connect with a book they want. Offering a variable ratio schedule of returns, I bet it could be an effective way to get people into the building. Get lucky at the library.

It would have been my lucky day if I hadn’t already bought this book.

The library is in the midst of a bunch of neighborhood shops, restaurants and bars – a central location for the neighborhood. The “LIBRARY” sign looks great, appears to use the sign fixture for whatever was in that space before and is contextually appropriate. Nice job MCL!