or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Digital Picture Frames as Informational Signs

   July 21st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Digital picture frame at the Childrens DeskUsually I'm pretty good at math, but in this case it took me awhile to put two and two together.

Awhile ago, our Childrens Department put a digital picture frame on their desk, using it to display photos of their various programs*. I'd seen and heard of other libraries using digital picture frame like this, and for in-building informational signs (like upcoming events), but I never thought of an application for it at the Reference Desk.

Until a couple weeks ago, when I was in the Apple Store in Boston. I'm not at all an Apple fanboy, but I admit that once in awhile, they come up with a good idea.

A friend of mine was having trouble with her Mac laptop, so we took it to the genius bar to having someone help us with it. I still really like the idea of the genius bar in and of itself, but what got my attention was that, behind the genius bar were great big screens scrolling through tips and information. The messages were all about using or fixing Apple products, which were perfectly targeted at the captive audience of people waiting for the genius bar.

I didn't get any photos myself (Apple is funny about taking pictures in their store), but here are some from the interweb:

Apple Store Genius Bar
Apple Store Genius Bar
Apple Store Genius Bar

You get the idea.

When I saw that, it finally dawned on me - this would be an easy thing for libraries to do at service desks, using a simple digital picture frame. As soon as I can get approval (and funding) to purchase one, I'd like to try one with rotating tips on topics like:

  • how to renew books
  • how to book museum passes
  • using online resources and databases
  • where the bathrooms are
  • online events calendar
  • how to find summer reading books

Really, good topics are anything that might be interesting to someone waiting in line at the Reference Desk.

The "photos" will just be slides created in PowerPoint, and hopefully, having something interesting to look will give patrons waiting in line something to do (in addition to teaching them something they may not have known).

I bet other libraries have already thought of this, so if you're doing it, please comment with how it's working. When I get ours up and running, I'll post an update with how it went.

 


*They decided to use a digital picture frame rather than flickr or other online service, because they were reluctant to post photos of kids on the internet. Keeping the photos offline and in the Childrens Room was a good compromise (between online or not at all), and it might be more likely for the kids to see themselves, too.



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Good Example of Effective Signage

   January 11th, 2011 Brian Herzog

I saw this sign in Porter Square Books, and really liked it:

Thank you for feeling at home, but please keep an eye on your things sign

It is simple and to the point, while also welcoming and courteous - which I think is far more effective than harsh or impersonal. Patrons in my library are extremely casual about leaving stuff lying around (i.e., leaving a laptop on a table while they run across the street for lunch), and employing signs like this would remind people that although the library is relatively safe, it is still an open public building.

Just for the fun of it, here are some less-friendly (but sometimes funny) examples for caveat patronus signs:

we are not responsible19072008we're not responsibleNot responsibleI wouldn't do that....no tinting or dyingNot on Him."Not Responsible if Seagulls Eat your Funnel Cake" SignNot Responsiblenot responsible for lost articlesnot responsible for your lifeBeware of the Catholics



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Seeding Book Displays

   December 14th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Book display missing one bookOne question I get asked all the time, by patrons who were attracted by one of our book displays and then spent a few minutes looking at all the books, is, "can these books be checked out?"

The answer is of course yes (that's why we put them on display). I don't actually mind answering the question, but any time I'm repeatedly asked the same question, I think there has got to be a better way to communicate the answer.

Signs are always the first option, but signs can go wrong quickly.

Then it struck me to use the same trick that restaurateurs and buskers use - you know when you see a tip jar with money already in it, you're more likely to put some in yourself versus a jar with nothing in it?

To translate this theory to book displays, we could start using dollar bills as bookmarks in display books, but I thought a better idea would be to always leave one of the display stands empty. It's subtle and non-verbal, but if someone sees that someone else has already checked out one of the books from the display, it might communicate to them that it's okay for them to check one out, too. Which is what we want them to know, especially if no staff person is around for them to ask.

I did this on all the displays around the Reference desk last week, and I'm waiting to see if anyone asks about checking out a display book. Usually it happens a couple times a week - so far so good.

What do other people do to let patrons know it's okay to check out display books?



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Free Books, not Free Hugs

   November 2nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Free HugsYesterday afternoon, patrons suddenly started asking our Circulation staff why there was a man on our front steps holding a "Free Hugs" sign.

This was news to us, and since there were also a couple complaints, our Head of Circulation walked out and told the man that he can't do that on library property. The man, very nicely and politely, said okay and left.

It was a little strange, and got us thinking - why can't he do that? Our first thought was that it violated our "no soliciting" policy - but technically he was giving out hugs, not asking for them. We couldn't come up with a hard and fast rule that he was breaking, other than it was creeping out patrons and affecting their library use - which does violate our Appropriate Library Behavior policy.

But come on, hugs? I know libraries are open public buildings, and we need to make sure everyone feels comfortable using them. But when the free hugs guy gets banned, maybe dialing back the fear and restoring sanity isn't a bad idea.

But it gets better - a few hours later I saw this tweet:

All the news that's fit to tweet

Apparently he went from the library to the Town Center, where loads of people were out holding campaign signs (loitering?) - and someone called the cops on him for his "Free Hugs" sign.



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Open To All ~ At All Times

   April 9th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Open To All ~ At All Times signThe biggest oversight when my library was built was that they only put in one Quiet Study Room.

It is constantly in use, and constantly in demand. Because people want a quiet place to close the door and spread out, we do what we can to accommodate them - or they do.

When otherwise not in use, we let people use the Conference Room as a quiet study room. We also have a Local History Room, and many people decide to go in there and close the door.

And this is the root of the latest controversy in my library. Our Local History Room contains our local history resources, and, by library policy, is Open To All* patrons whenever the library is open. Which means anyone can go into this room, and if someone is already in there, they have to share.

However, we've recently had a spate of patrons closing the door and telling other patrons the room was reserved, and they couldn't come in. This confused patrons and irritated staff, so we finally had to put signs up on the Local History Room door to very clearly spell out our policy.

As you may know, I have a reputation for taking down signs, so I wanted to make sure this sign was clear and effective - and I think it is. Since it went up, we haven't had any problems. People still go in and close the door, but no more intra-patron intimidation, and that is a good thing.

Oh and by the way, I hung a sign both on the outside as well as on the inside of the door - that way when someone does close the door, they can't claim they didn't see the sign.

 


*I was inspired by the entrance to the library in Groton, MA.

 



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Button: Not For Children

   August 7th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Not For ChildrenIn response to a comment on my post about good and bad library signs, I'm posting this photograph, too.

These are the signs next to the button that automatically opens the Library's front doors, to provide easy entrance to people who have trouble opening the door.

As the comment mentioned, it of course is a great play thing for children. I don't know how effective our signs are, but I have a feeling that the big arrow is probably irresistible to kids - even those who can't read.

But I think signs, in general, are band-aids, and a real solution (or the real problem) lies in the very design. I don't know how this could be designed differently, but there's got to be a more effective approach to the situation.



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