“The information desk is over there.”

2 Sep

I have recently started volunteering at my local public library, to help pass the time while I look for a full-time librarian position. I’ve been helping out at the technology desk a couple of hours a week, helping patrons with basic computing tasks like saving and printing documents. I have noticed a couple of things during my short time there that I’ve been turning over in my head.

This past spring, my local library did some renovations/service changes. These include a new technology center and an RFID check-in/check-out system. They also changed the location and layout of the library service desks. They now have a combined circulation and reference desk and a service desk for the technology center. These changes have been in place since March, but there still seems to be some confusion about where to go for particular services. Since the new technology center is where the reference desk used to be, we still get people coming to the technology center service desk to ask reference questions. This is despite what I consider to be very clear signage: directly over each desk is a large sign indicating what the desk is for. So the technology desk says “Technology Center,” the reference desk says “Information/Research help”, and the circ desk says “Accounts”  (since the library has self-service check-outs, this desk is mainly for signing up for a new account or fixing account issues). I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of people don’t actually read signs in the library. Even large signs with clear, concise labels.

I’m not really sure what the solution is here. I know libraries struggle with the issue of signage – what is the best terminology to use, since patrons don’t necessarily know library terms like “reference”, where to put them, whether to use them at all. Perhaps 5 months isn’t long enough for everyone to be used to the new setup, or some may be occasional library users and haven’t been in since it changed. It’s natural for people to head towards a familiar location to ask their questions – if they don’t realize there has been a change, why would they bother to check the signs? I’m just wondering what the solution is, if there is one. I like what this library has done with its layout and service desks; it seems really natural to me. But perhaps I don’t see things the same way as most library visitors since I’m a librarian?

In the meantime, I just refer people to the librarians at the information desk when they have a reference question. I always feel bad making them go elsewhere to get help, but as a volunteer it would not be appropriate for me to answer these questions, even when I feel that I can. I am trying to familiarize myself with where all the different collections are in the library so I can answer directional questions, since it seems silly to refer someone to a librarian for those. However, there are some things that I’m not sure are within my purview as a volunteer, like showing someone how to look something up in the catalog and find the location information. This is something I can do, and it seems technology-related since it involves the use of the OPAC, but I don’t want to step on any toes by doing something that might be considered a staff member’s responsibility. I have gotten clarification on what to do with catalog search questions from the library staff, but it is an example of a kind of gray area question that I might get on the desk.

What do you think about library signage? Is the confusion I’m seeing something that can be helped by better/different signage, or is it something that might dissipate with time? Or do I just need to get over my feeling that I’m inconveniencing the patron by making them go to another service desk?

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