How “Kind” is Your Library? Pictures Wanted!

Do you work in a “kind” library? Librarian Jessica Olin of Letters to a Young Librarian and I are presenting on “kindness audits” at the Association of College and Research Libraries virtual conference next week. Here’s our session description:

Killing It with Kindness: Incorporating Sustainable Assessment through Kindness Audits
Learn how to design and conduct a kindness audit, a low-cost and high-reward assessment method that helps librarians examine barriers to library services and spaces through a user experience lens. Varying methods for kindness audits, lessons learned, and suggestions for identifying and implementing low-cost improvements for library spaces and services, will all be discussed.

Jessica and I will share photos of our experiences with kindness audits, but we want to hear from you!

We Need Your Help
Here’s how to get involved: Are you proud of a library space, furniture, signage, services desks, etc… at your library? Or maybe you have an example that could use some improvement? That’s OK too!

Take a Photo
Take a photo and send it our way! Email us at: librarykindnessaudit@gmail.com and provide a description of the photo.

We may use your photo in our presentation, however we will not use your name (unless you want us to!). Keep in mind that identifying info may be apparent from the photo.

Jessica and I will make our slides freely available after the conference. We’ll also be using the Twitter hashtag #acrlkindness during our presentation.

Need some inspiration? Here are a few examples:

 

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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:

Periodicals and Other Library Jargon

Interesting comments over on the LIBREF-L discussion list about what constitutes library ‘jargon.’ The librarian originating the discussion wanted to know a more “user friendly” term for periodicals, as the staff spends time defining it to users.

So what do you call it? Whether it be for library instruction, or signage, I try to avoid anything that may be too jargon-y. I prefer a simple “journals & magazines” label, or a separate “newspapers” label.

One of the respondents to the question made an important point: for academic libraries, it is necessary to separate journals from magazines and newspapers, as many professors will want students to use scholarly literature. Most students coming into college are already familiar with the terms magazine and newspaper–and they’ll become all too familiar with the term journal soon enough!

However, the respondent felt that “periodicals” was the most appropriate label. It’s a “catch all” term: Periodicals cover journals, magazines, AND newspapers. The respondent also made the point that students learn jargon in their discipline, so “one more won’t kill them.” Now that I tend to disagree with. An academic library can often be the most intimidating building on a college campus: difficulty navigating, unfamiliar organization of materials, overwhelming, unhelpful/unfriendly staff (a perception). Using user-friendly terms helps mitigate this.

Roy Tennant, on his Library Journal blog, posted a list of words librarians shouldn’t say or use. The one that caught my eye was OPAC. Now I know our profession loves acronyms. But OPAC just has to go. It means nothing to our users. But what about terms that librarians hold dear to their hearts: databases? indexes? full-text? circulation?

A brief look at library websites shows many use the term databases. Some even use the term indexes (please ban this term, too, Roy!) I use the term database in library instruction, but always with an explanation that it’s the place to go for articles. More user-friendly library websites use  simpler language such as “Find Articles,” or even “Find Books” for the library catalog. It’s not “dumbing down”–it’s about making access easier.

The term full-text is another one that bugs me. I know the term is often driven by the database vendors, but we need to speak up! Just changing full-text to “click for article” or something similar would help. Countless times at the Reference Desk (or is it Information Desk?) users come up wanting to know how to get the article when the full-text link is right there!

As for circulation, I’d put that in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category. Most users have a sense of what this term is. But I’m not opposed to a simplified “check out” sign, either.

So, what library terms do you see as library “jargon” and what would you suggest instead?

Periodicals

Periodicals signage at Allen County (IN) Public Library. Courtesy of ACPL on Flickr.

Reference Desk: What to Call It?

The phone rings at the Reference Desk. I pick it up to answer:

Me: Library Reference Desk, may I help you?

Patron: Umm…I don’t need you to be a reference. But can I ask a question?

Me: (Not missing a beat) Absolutely!

So, did the library patron really think the Reference Desk was the place to call to have someone vouch for them on a resume? Sigh.

What should it be called? Information Desk, Research Desk, Help Desk? I just don’t think the term reference registers with a lot of users. I also struggle with using the term reference when I do library instruction. I generally don’t even say “reference books”–instead, it’s background info, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.

I worked at a library where the Reference Desk was known as the “Research Assistance” desk. That made sense to users (this was an academic library). The students knew to go to this desk and get help from the librarian.

I also like “Information Desk”: questions = information. That’s easy to understand. “Help Desk” is a perfect description, too. However, it has been co-opted by information technology departments. Would users assume that a “Help Desk” is only for technology questions? Although, many libraries do already answer many tech questions anyway.

Which name do you prefer?

The library I currently work at recently installed a merged circulation/reference area. Now I struggle whether to refer separately to them as “circulation desk” and “reference desk,” (they are technically two desks, separated by small opening) or some new name?

After the re-model:

I’d love to hear from other librarians who have merged circulation/reference areas. What do you call it?

Mr./Ms. Library Director: Tear Down This Sign!

A question posted to the ILI-L discussion list concerned QR codes and cell phones. The questioner wanted to know about libraries’ policies that forbid the use of cell phones. How could QR codes be implemented if you can’t use your cell phone to take a picture!? It got me thinking about library signage and policies. Here’s my favorite photo of a “no cell phone” sign:

Image from Flickr, courtesy of Travelin’ Librarian.

I don’t know what to focus on! You get a red “X,” red lettering, capital letters, exclamation points, and it’s signed “Library Director,” to boot. It’s a bit much, don’t you think? Libraries need to adapt to changing technologies. Not everyone on a cell phone is having a conversation. They could be browsing a mobile version of the library’s website, or a database. Maybe a patron just texted a call number to him/herself (I do that all the time!)? And yes, they could even be using the camera to take a picture of a QR code, or of a book they find interesting. For another “negative” sign, check out this photo from Flickr–another jumble of negativity!

For me, common courtesy (no loud conversations, take extended conversations to lobby, etc.) and common sense policy (e.g., creating “quiet zones” and “noisy” zones) are key. Working to create a comfortable, inviting, and courteous environment is more useful and advantageous in the long run, than one that’s inherently negative. Do you want to be the “shushing” librarian stereotype? I don’t.

If you haven’t browsed the Library Signage group on Flickr, it’s definitely worth a look. Take for example, a “positively” worded cell phone sign from Community College of Allegheny County. Or you can even be a bit more “informal” (yada, yada, yada) as is the Republican Valley Library System in Nebraska. When I worked at Southern New Hampshire University, we had a sign that read Texting Encouraged – suggesting a viable alternative without being negative.

Texting Encouraged

Texting Encouraged

What are your thoughts on no-cell phone signs, library policies, and library signage in general? Got some examples? Please share!