6 Tips to Improve the User Experience in Your Library

Engaging graphicsTo explain library user experience, let’s begin by imagining that you’re a new book that has just been shipped to your library. It may have been a rough landing and frightening when the box was slit open and torn apart. But after that, you feel the love. You’re welcomed, often highly anticipated and already in demand. You are rightfully accounted for in the ILS, and steps are taken to make sure you last. You are labeled and protected before being carefully placed in your new home. Maybe you even got the face-out treatment to make a good first impression. Other times you are put on display with a special review or endorsement. You are a valued asset!

Now, envision yourself as a patron and put yourself behind the lens through which he or she experience your library. The space and furnishings may appear from a bygone era, and learning how the library is organized and categorized and how to access all the services is akin to learning a new language. It can be unnecessarily difficult to find that shiny new book that just arrived. What experiences or enhancements could be made to improve the patron experience?

6 Tips for Positive Library User Experiences

1. Think about the first impression your library makes.

First impressions make lasting impressions, so ask the following questions:

  • What’s the experience like at your library when patrons first walk in the entryway? Is it welcoming? Is it aesthetically appealing? Does it guide them where they want to go?
  • Are there open sight lines throughout your spaces? Is there visibility into your collection and other areas of your library?
  • How quickly can patrons get oriented to your space to know which direction they should head to reach their initial destination?

Quick improvements that can dramatically improve people’s first impressions of your library include adding a welcoming directory sign and decluttering your spaces. Find inspiration for these endeavors in your collection’s organizing and clutter management titles.

2. Think about enhancements you can make to your service model.

Self-check equipment is mainstream, as is the practice of self-service holds. But service models are continuing to evolve; for some libraries, the creation of genius bars and information commons are gaining momentum as one-stop shops for service. Equally popular are smaller service points throughout the library. Regardless of your model, make it easy for patrons to complete simple transactions and know where to go for help. To do this, clearly identify help desk locations and services throughout your library.

3. Create flow in your library space design.

We can’t deny that patrons make strong associations between books and libraries. However, providing the community with gathering spaces and offering access to technology are also in high demand. These are natural opportunities for you to show patrons that your library is much more than books alone!

Libraries are constantly adapting and flexing their spaces to accommodate new user groups and services, and zoning by interest and noise level is on the rise. To see if your library is being used to its maximum potential, find tips and tools for conducting a library observation from Demco’s Wayfinding series, and explore how Wi-Fi can help you gather data and insights about your space.

4. Rethink your signage.

Expanding your signage toolbox to include color and graphics can radically improve users’ experiences. Here are key takeaways from the ALA 2016 session Signage in Your Library, Tips for Success:

  • Use common language. It’s been said before, but I like how the presenters expressed it the best: Don’t make people be in the know, reach normal human beings. Use words that most people are familiar with instead of library terminology. For example, use “Questions?” or “Ask Us” instead of “Circulation Desk.”
  • People respond better to positive messages that are welcoming and inspiring. For example, “Please enjoy your food and drinks on our patio (or another designated area)” instead of “No food allowed in the library,” or “Please enjoy our garden and help our flowers grow by leaving them on their stems” instead of “Don’t pick the flowers.”
  • Develop a signage hierarchy and use a complementary style throughout your entire library.
  • Less is more — signs that contribute to visual clutter are not well-received (see tip #1).
  • Simple plexi or acrylic sign holders are always a better option than tape. Not only do they look cleaner and more professional, but they also appear intentional rather than an afterthought.
  • Choose sign fixtures that are simple, flexible and easy to change so you can adapt them as your space changes.

5. Create opportunities for discovery.

Discovery is about helping patrons find more of the riches that are in your library. As part of this process you expand people’s perceptions of your library.

  • Because people mainly associate books with libraries, it’s imperative that your collection is well organized and strategically weeded and features signage that helps patrons find what they are looking for. Attractive displays and presentations lead users to discover new books and be inspired to explore other genres and topics.
  • Put your collection to work by placing marketing messages in the stacks when and where it makes the most sense. This is prime real estate to promote programs, services and other complementary areas of your collection.
  • Create a bridge between your physical library space and your digital services by cross-promoting eResources and formats in your stacks.
  • Themed merchandising displays and programming such as Northbrook Public Library’s month-long celebration of the ‘80s can be platforms to increase people’s awareness about your collection, programming and services.

6. Develop a plan to tie it all together.

Having a branding and marketing strategy offers a roadmap that defines how you want users to experience your library and how you will engage your community in new ways to alter outdated perceptions. You can find a list of resources, a library branding audit tool and Anythink Library’s Visual Merchandising Guidelines as part of Demco’s Wayfinding series.

More than ever, we are hearing from libraries that community engagement is a high priority. Jacksonville Public Library (FL) recently developed Get to Yes training for all staff members to prepare them for a new customer service model. Other libraries are using the Harwood Institute’s method of Turning Outward. Regardless, a good user experience at the library enhances relationships, and tightknit relationships lead to heightened engagement. Everybody wins.

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Angie Schoeneck

Angie Schoeneck

Growth Strategy Manager at Demco, Inc.
Angie is the Growth Strategy Manager at Demco. She focuses on the evolving needs and trends in education and library environments, their patrons and communities, and translating these into relevant products and services. She has an extensive background in new product development, product management and business process improvement.