Friday, July 23, 2010

Do libraries send mixed messages?

One of my favorite blogs is The 'M' Word - Marketing Libraries ( The authors Kathy Dempsey and Nancy Dowd always have lots of real world scenarios and examples to share. A recent post by Kathy, summarized a presentation she attended at the Texas Library Association's annual conference, by Wayne Disher, director of the Hemet Public Library in Hemet, California. Disher's presentation outlined how he has observed the mixed messages that libraries often send. These he categorized in 4 ways:
1. Attitude
2. Facilities
3. Policies
4. Signage

Every public library tends to want to get out the same kinds of messages. Dempsey lists them as:
"Everyone is welcome in the library!"
"We have experts who are trained to help you."
"The library is a safe, inviting place."
"We have something for everyone."
"We want you to use the library."
"Libraries are still relevant in the age of the internet."

So, Disher encourages us all to think about whether our attitude, facilities, policies and signage support these messages. Here are some examples:

1. Attitude - does staff attitude convey that everyone is welcome in the library, and that we want you to use the library? Are patrons welcomed as they come in? Do they have to step up to the desk and ring a bell to get your attention? Or wait until you are finished with that computer task? Try to acknowledge every customer as they come in. If they have to wait for service for some reason, just let them know that you know they are there. If you seem more caught up in your work then helping the customer many will go unaided.

2. Facilities - do your faded carpet, old shelving, chipped paint, and damaged computer desks actually say that you are still relevant in the age of the internet? Of course we know we are, but what does the average library patron think? Or, even worse the non-patron? Obviously, a lot of this is completely dependent upon available funding, but what a great way to build support for renovations or a new building. Your library needs to look the part of the vital and useful building that it is. One suggestion Disher provided was using "sign twirlers" - those kids who stand along the sidewalk wearing sandwich boards and drawing attention to your business. Disher suggests a moving sign that says "Free Wireless Inside". What a great idea. And completely do-able with just a sign and a young volunteer.

3. Policies - many policies are created with the mindset of what's good for the library, but what about the patrons? Do restrictive borrowing policies really say "we want you to use the library"? How about restrictions on food and drink in the library? Not very welcoming. Disher suggests taking a look at your policies and consider updating them to reflect the times and the messages we want to get out there.

4. Signage - this element goes hand-in-hand with policies. Disher suggests using signage with positive messages rather than negative ones. For example, instead of saying "No cell phones", how about a sign that says "Please take your conversations to ... (wherever might work in your library)". Many libraries will put up signs displayed in ALL CAPS telling their patrons what they can't do. Instead, tell them what they can. For example instead of "NO FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED", how about a sign that invites your patrons to go sit in your coffee area or on your patio? Try to use signage that invites your patrons to use the library.

If you would like to read the full post just go to The 'M' Word blog at:

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