Wayfinding Series: Part 1 of 4

Signage as a Component of Your Space Design, Merchandising and Service Models

My personal favorite take-away from Ruth Barefoot’s webinar, Wayfinding, the San José Way, was the idea of celebrating your library. There is so much goodness happening in libraries across the country, that I can easily generate a long list of reasons to support Ruth’s idea. On the flip side, there is the Pew Research Center finding that is likely a thorn in the side for many of you, “Only 25% of Americans feel they know most or all of what their library has to offer.” Another likely thorn — those who proclaim libraries are dead because they can find everything they need on the Internet.

Wouldn’t it be great if 1 by 1 you could take each of these critics on a personal tour of your library, and sit next to them in some of your classes? As crazy as these ideas sound, what if everyone who stepped through your doors felt like they were on a guided tour? Not the kind of tour where someone is talking at you non-stop through a loudspeaker. This tour would be almost magical. There would be freedom to explore, yet information would be presented at the precise moment it’s needed, as if you were reading their minds.

Imagine such a tour at your library . . . starting NOW!

First impressions make lasting impressions

Customers arrive, clearly knowing they’re at your library. They walk through your doors and confidently proceed with precise knowledge of their destination or they scan the environment, locate a directory, and figure out their next steps. Maybe you have staff who personally welcomes them to your library. Soon after arrival, present visitors with news of the day’s events, upcoming classes and new arrivals, creating moments of discovery.

What’s your perspective of your library’s first impression? Neutral? Negative? Positive? Welcoming? What opportunities do you see to move your customers’ experiences with your library deeper into the realms of positivity and welcoming?

Guideposts & Beacons to What Lies Ahead

As your customers continue on their journey, the compositions of visual elements they see create a landscape to navigate. Flooring, furnishings and the application of color play a significant role in shaping place, community and identity. Overhead signs, ceiling or wall mounted banners and lettering are common types of signs that identify and guide users into spaces or zones within the library. Architectural elements such as columns, loft spaces, atriums and “focal point” walls should be leveraged to enhance wayfinding.

Stay the course for a positive and welcoming experience for your visitors as they walk through your library. U.S. Americans with Disability Act (ADA) guidelines recommend 4″ high characters for visibility at distance of 100′. Typical overhead signage guidelines are 3″ high characters when suspended 80′ overhead. Strong contrasting color combinations are recommended to enhance the readability of your signs. Suggested font color and background combinations are:


White, Yellow
White, Yellow
Black, Red, Blue and Grey
Black, Red, Blue and Grey
White, Yellow and Beige
White, Yellow

In the Zone — Discovering the Goodness

This is where the magic of the self-guided tour comes into play. Knowing what library signs are necessary and those that will enhance the user experience, balanced against creating opportunities for discovery without clutter.

Merchandising is a strong component of discovery too. Take advantage of your resources, especially architectural elements, end panels and canopy tops. Face-out displays are widely known to increase circulation, and some libraries are commingling formats on their shelving — hardcover, paperback, audio, video in a single location. This gives customers all their options in one place and creates an opportunity for awareness of other formats or related services.

Finding Their Way

Some positive research figures from Pew Research Center shows that many Americans are visiting libraries to attend meetings, classes and programs — all of which have starting times. While we all strive to be on time, if not early, there is nothing worse than being unable to find your destination when pressed for time. A directory can get visitors off on the right path, but meeting rooms are often tucked away in corners of the building or on other floors. Reinforcing signs along the way are important, and clearly identified rooms give them confidence they’ve arrived at the right location.

Meaningful Customer Interactions

I think it’s safe to say libraries are in a state of transformation, and that a large component of this shift includes changing public perceptions and opinions. There is no easier place to start than with your current library users. The more they understand and know the full scope of what you offer, the more likely they are to become your best advocates and supporters.

Directing customers to restrooms can be an extremely urgent question. However, effective signage can address these types of easy questions, freeing up time to help customers in meaningful ways, such as homework help, database research and completion of job applications, creating positive impressions about the library and its smart, helpful staff.



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.