Thursday, June 23, 2011

Committee Work - Signage Assessment

By Guest Blogger Melissa Ravely

A large part of any academic job is always serving on committees. I got started working with the Marketing Committee when I pointed out a need for "call number cheat sheets" of sorts to put in the stacks to aid patrons who would like to browse. When I voiced this need, I discovered that the Marketing Committee was already planning (although they had not yet started) to assess signage around the building, and was invited to join the Marketing Committee to aid in this assessment.

As it turned out, at my first Committee Meeting, I was offered the position of head of the sub-team who would do the assessment. I've never even served on any sort of committee before, and here I was leading a sub-committee and a major project already! But I jumped at the chance to have that experience (and also to break the monotony of adding closed captions to help videos!)

At that first meeting, we established the members of the subcommittee and started throwing out ideas of signs we noticed were missing that we would like to create, and also made comments on existing signage that we did not like for a variety of reasons. Over the course of the next month, I walked the entire building (we have five floors) and made an Excel spreadsheet detailing every sign I saw (and with so many, I know I missed some!), which floor it was on, and whether it was a permanent sign or a sign that someone had simply printed from their computer. I emailed it around to the subcommittee members and asked for their comments so that at our next meeting we could discuss which of these signs are great and can stay, which signs need revamped, and which ones need taken down. From this discussion we created a list of our top priorities. The categories of these priorities included directional signage, call number signs, signs for restrooms, and certain room or service desk signage. This list also included all of the signs we wanted removed.

The next step was to take this list to the library Administrative Assistant and discuss the possibilities and costs involved with accomplishing our ideas. She and I took the list and walked the entire building again to see the various environments. I learned that our second floor is going to be completely remodeled in the next few years so we shouldn't worry about changing any signs there since they will all be replaced with the remodel. I learned that for the seeing-impaired we cannot have any signs physically on a door, as it poses an obvious safety concern. I was also informed not to put any signs on glass (although another committee member came up with a work around for that later - instead of using paper, print signage on clear sticker paper that can thus be affixed to the window) and that no permanent signs could be put on the nice wood paneling as permanent signs are drilled into the walls (although later this was amended). I was told of materials we already had that could be used for signage (for free!) and she also let me know the vendors and prices of existing signs to give an idea of what cost might be incurred in making new ones.

So at the next subcommittee meeting we discussed all of these things and finalized the list that included the most important signs we would like to revamp or create and what the prices would be for each. This list included buying new hanging signs for our service desks, creating a podium map for the main floor, relocated a map in the main lobby to a more visible location, revamping an existing generic "Welcome to Cook Library" sign that is on every floor to be floor-specific, re-printing all of the call number range signs so that the fonts match, creating better directional signage to the Media Resource Services lab (as the only room that is contained inside a lobby and behind the elevator shaft no one can ever find it!), and removing all "no smoking" and "no food and drink" signs from around the building (food and drink have been allowed since the cafe opened in the main lobby a few years ago, and the entire campus has been deemed smoke-free for a year, so the signs are unnecessary). Out of this list, only the hanging signs and perhaps the floor-specific signs would incur any cost. The rest we could use existing equipment for and/or create ourselves.

The next step was to take this final list to the Dean of University Libraries to discuss and get the go-ahead for our plans. She emphatically agreed with all our ideas, loved that we had taken the initiative to assess and change signage around the building (it sounded as if signage had been a thorn in her side for awhile!) and gave us a lot of good feedback for how to create the signs we had in mind. Now, we just have to do it!

But with the most important signs accounted for, the subcommittee still has work to do! When I assessed the entire building, I was surprised to find loads of personally-created signs tacked up for various reasons. The main problem with all of these "hand-made" signs was the complete lack of uniformity. As a subcommittee, we decided that sometimes these non-permanent signs are necessary (think "out of order" signs and signs for the stacks that can move as the books move) but if signs are going to be made, they should be somewhat consistent. At our last meeting we began the process of decided upon some sort of template or at least a list of guidelines for sign-makers to use so that we don't have the hodge-podge of signage we have now. At that meeting, we came up with a list of things we should mandate in a future list of guidelines, and decided to create templates for commonly used signs (such as "out of order"). The list of things to consider in making the guidelines included fonts, borders, pictures, colored paper, use of bold/italics/underline, a whole conversation on excessive use of exclamation points, and what kind of information should be included in signs.

For our next meeting, I plan on bringing samples of the existing signs from around the building so we can work off of these examples - discussing what we like and dislike about these signs will help guide the creation of our set of rules.

I will say this project has shed new light for me on signs - I notice them everywhere I go now and have definite opinions about them :-)

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