Examining Library Spaces through a “Kindness Audit”

Have you ever considered doing a “kindness audit” at your library?

In the HyperlibMOOC class, Michael Stephens discusses the concept of a “kindness audit” – look at your library space and examine how kind it is for your patrons.

  • Is the signage positive?
  • Are your service desks welcoming?
  • Can users find their way easily?
  • What obstacles do your users encounter?

I did a walk through of my library and tried to experience it from someone who has never set foot in the doors.

First a little bit about my library:

  • academic library
  • campus of 6,500 students, plus faculty, staff, and community members.
  • 8 floors

It’s also important to note that the library does not occupy all floors: other campus offices (including the Chancellor, Provost, university human resources, etc.) occupy space in the library building. The “library proper” is floors 2-6, and part of floor 7. The outside entrance brings you into floor 2.

So what were some of the positives?

Call numbers can be confusing for the casual library user. We’ve improved our signage to incorporate subject areas:

Call number signage with subject areas and tips on how to get help.

Call number signage with subject areas and tips on how to get help.

User-friendly terminology is used for signage at the Research Help Desk (formerly called the “Reference Desk”) and the Public Services Desk (circulation, equipment, tech help):

Signage at service desks

Signage at service desks

The current Research Help Desk is three years old and replaced a “fortress” style reference desk. It’s a low desk with roller chairs, a dual monitor set-up, and a wireless keyboard and mouse. In addition, the Research Help Desk has been co-located with the Public Services Desk (Circulation) area allowing for seamless help among different library services. No more passing people between service points.

Research Help Desk

Research Help Desk

Cell Phone Signage:

"To promote a research-friendly environment..."

“To promote a research-friendly environment…”

Here are a few more positive notes:

What could be improved?

Many of these are infrastructure issues, while others are more cosmetic in nature:

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18 thoughts on “Examining Library Spaces through a “Kindness Audit”

  1. Fantastic idea! I’m going to have a go in my small public library. I particularly like the renamed Research Help Desk, but I think the reading room needs breaking up into smaller, cosier areas.

  2. I like the signage by the reference desks on type of information tools, a cell-phone free area. For latter, it doesn’t hurt to have a tasteful cartoon to illustrate this requirement for a library area. I know it’s an academic library, not a public library but just a few strategic cartoons.

    For the reading rm. that is intended to be quiet but is under-utilized, maybe the reading rm. needs to have different type of lighting that feels ‘cosier’ and make the seating with a table near seat, with a plant, etc. to simulate corners. An art piece/installation here and there on the walls might attract warmth to the room.

    I assume you have little rooms for user group collaboration or even for on the fly small group instruction.

    I know that academic libraries do not design their space to incorporate large group speaker events since universities have space elsewhere on campus but that would be cool if the library physical space was more deeply tied to that. As you know some public libraries have become very successful in marrying their information use/study space to be adjacent to space for public town hall events/speaker events.

    The academic library could do well to have wall mounted tv monitors like they do in airports, that have self-rotating feed of university public presentations, topics on campus for people at attend…the library then marries published info. that its services supports and makes the connection to walk-in users on such events for information exchange.

  3. I love all the signage; if we had that much at our library, half of my daily questions would be gone. I especially like the reference/circulation ones.

  4. I love this! The revamped signage and updated terms for the circulation and reference desks are fantastic!

    Suggestions for improvement in other areas:
    Old Signage – when you have the $$$ to replace the signs, consider what restaurants and coffee shops have done: use a chalkboard. The placement seems like an effective ward against vandalism, and I’m sure that student employees would love to have a chance to practice/show off their artistic chalkboard lettering skills. (Chalkboard art examples here: http://www.pinterest.com/leighannewilkes/chalkboard-art/)

    A particularly clever coffee shop I visited recently had installed magnets on smaller chalkboards so that they could update their menu by updating those smaller, removable pieces. The smaller chalkboards did a good job of blending in with the large chalkboard.

    Confusing Recycling Signs – replace the handwritten “please do not” signs with professional-looking lists (with illustrations) of what is ok and what is not ok for the bin. Lots of people don’t know that food encrusted/soaked cardboard doesn’t belong in the recycling bin. It won’t stop the problem completely, but the people who truly care about recycling will appreciate the effort.

    Bat Problem – does the library have a mascot? Maybe it’s time to put those bats to use! If you can, and then put images of the bat-mascot (batscot? Scott the bat?) on the emergency exit door, you may be more likely to get a smile from your patrons (and happy compliance). Personally, I would also put some toy bats on the other side of “The Cage.” It ties in thematically with your new mascot and would be an amusement instead of something that looks unwelcoming.

    Reading Room – do you have the resources to do a survey (even an informal one) of the students that you observe studying alone in other areas of the library? Perhaps just asking what they found attractive about their current spot would help you see why they don’t choose the Reading Room.

    • Thanks for sharing, Meredith–this is wonderful advice! We’re getting ready to embark on a space study to see how students use the library spaces and we’re going to address the problems with the Reading Room based off of that–we’re doing an observational study and looking at how/where people are studying (solo, small groups, large groups). We’re also recruiting students to do a “photo study” (take pics of things they like/don’t like in the library). I’ll be interested in seeing the results.

  5. How about doing a “kindness audit” for staff spaces first?

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  10. Fantastic idea! Definitely going to do this in our library.

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  14. I’m in the middle of a sign audit at my library. I’m going to shamelessly steal your ideas for the signs on the stacks.

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