I spotted this interesting case study by Amy F. Stempler discussing shelf-signage issues in a circulating book collection at CSI Library, a four year college library. Inherently, every library’s physical layout is uniquely different. Some places are purpose built; others are born out of recycled space with some walls knocked through. No matter what the conditions on the ground, Stempler reckons that her approach to shelf signage may well serve as a generic best practice framework for other libraries out there. I agree with her. Below follows a brief description of CSI library and an overview of Stempler’s signage approach.
The library at CSI resides in a three-floor building and is comprised of four quadrants hugging a dome. Its collection of 240,000 books is housed on the third floor and spreads over 191 double-sided bookshelves. The same is arranged in three of the four quadrants and organised by the Library of Congress Classification System.
Stempler’s literature review indicates that most studies to date revolve around library-shelf configuration, informational and promotional materials as well as general wayfinding signage, rather than advice on creating precise search and retrieval strategies and related signage. It is suggested that specific signage – such as locator signs and navigational maps – will create more self-sufficient students when it comes to subject browsing and locating targeted books. Arguably, this translates into more independent library users with the knock-on effect of freeing up reference staff time.
Since the physical layout at CSI library proofed to be a challenge for effective wayfinding, Stempler devised a new signage strategy that directly tackles book retrieval challenges two particular user types face: people searching for a specific book and people wanting to browse for books on a particular subject.
The re-design approach:
First of all, a colour-coded scheme was devised that visually sections off library-shelf areas in support of basic spatial orientation. The colour themes were then rigorously applied to all related signage, which in turn created a unified wayfinding theme. Five types of signs were created using the same font, format and label type:
1) Aisle number signs:
Double-sided perpendicular card holders indicate the isle number; all cards are colour coded. Knowledge of the aisle where particular books reside in addition to the class number can speed up retrieval time. Users can receive aisle numbers via the reference desk, shelf lists located in strategic locations or from an online map.
2) Class number range sings:
All signs are appropriately colour coded and contain the phrase “Class Numbers” on the first line, followed by the first three components of the class number for the first and last book in the isle.
3) Directional signs:
Three directional sign types apply. The first indicates the appropriate colour section, the second includes an arrow pointing to where a colour section is located, and the third specifies where class numbers continue. The first two types are printed on plain paper and, where appropriate, on the colour paper to which they refer. The third sign uses the same language where possible. Directional signs are placed at navigational decision points.
4) Subject area signs (for browsing):
Provide the title “Find Books by Subject Area”, briefly define the relevant classification system and describe how books are grouped by subject and arranged together on the shelves. Signs are printed on corresponding colour paper. Maintain consistency in font and format with all other signs.
5) Shelf list signs:
The reference desk maintains a colour coded shelf list indicating aisle number and related class number range. This is used as a wayfinding tool when assisting users at the desk. Shelf list signs are also mounted in strategic locations to aid targeted book retrieval and subject browsing.
In addition to analogue library signage, CSI developed a digital map version which hyperlinks from the location and class number in a given catalogue record. The map indicates where a particular book is located. See screenshot examples below.
2008/2009 annual report).