3 Oct 2014

Improving wayfinding signage through combined digital/analogue signposting

A year ago I wrote about library-signage redesign efforts at CSI Library, which has led to improved wayfinding for students and increased circulating-book transactions.

CSI’s challenge was to better bridge the retrieval gap between virtual OPAC identifier and physical shelf location. The same challenge applies to our context here at DBS Library.

Over the summer we looked at how a similar feat could be accomplished in our library. As opposed to CSI Library (three-floor building) our setup is somewhat more straight forward as the main lending and reference collections reside on one floor; the bays are also for the most part sequentially aligned.

We sat down and first of all looked at how physical signage could be improved. This involved enlarging fonts and a clearer layout of subject descriptors, as well as splitting double-sided bays into separate logical units and class number ranges: A (front) and B (back).

To make orientation for students easier, we also added alphanumerical perpendicular(ish) signs, which were attached above the main bay labels.

This covered the physical layout aspect.

Catalogue records were also adjusted to account for digital signposting at item level. We originally suggested to recruit two MARC fields for this purpose:

Data element
SQL column
Shelving location code
Coded value, matching the authorized value list 'LOC'
To account for the alphanumerical bay label
Uniform Resource Identifier
A URL or URN, which provides electronic access data in a standard syntax.
To account for a digital location map (e.g. hosted on the cloud)

The SQL table ‘Items’ was adjusted to include the shelving location code 952$c.

Item Record in local Koha instance
There were two options looked at regarding the inclusion of links to maps in the OPAC. The first was to include 952$u in the catalogue records. The problem with this was twofold. One catalogue record might relate to different physical locations, which in our context are: Aungier Street Main Lending, Aungier Street Reference and Dame Street Main Lending. Second, it is not possible to do batch catalogue record modifications at present in Koha. However, there is a workaround using MarcEdit for batch bibliographic record modification, but the problem with multiple item locations within one catalogue record is still not addressed – which map would you link to?

The second option was to add the link to the map to the item records. This could be done by batch item modification but the issue here is that while you can add a URL to the item record you cannot add a note to describe it. So the library user would only see the standard message as below “Link to resource”.

Catalogue Record in local Koha instance / Holdings
We are considering to include a global digital map (one for each site) with relevant bay-sign markers. The maps would then be placed prominently on the OPAC homepage.

As an aside, the consequence of adding a shelf location code is that library staff must take note when shelving not to shift books from one bay to another (or one side of a bay to another) without updating the relevant item records.

Below is a sample screenshot of a catalogue record with a bay location identifier at item level (example: AS Bay 3A).

Essentially, the library user has now information about the physical location of the shelf in addition to the call number. In this example, Violence : six sideways reflections with the call number 179.7 ZIZ lives on shelf 3A. This additional piece of information reduces the burden on the user to identify the correct shelf. Within our context, all the user has to do now is look down the aisle and keep an eye out for the perpendicular(ish) sign 3A.

The term has just started and I took the liberty of asking some students in situ (at the OPAC station) what they thought of the additional location descriptor (i.e. digital with analogue linkup). Their responses were uniformly positive. The idea, ultimately, is to empower students and reduce wayfinding queries at the reference desk, as well as reducing library anxiety.

Credit goes to my colleagues Trevor Haugh, Marie O’Dwyer and Colin O’Keeffe. This project would not have been realised without their expertise, enthusiasm and active support.

It’d be great to hear from other folks out there who have tried to improve wayfinding in their library context through a combination of digital/analogue signposting via Koha (or any other LMS).

Amy F. Stempler, (2013) Navigating circular library stacks: a case study on signage. Reference Services Review, 41(3), 503 – 513.
Wilson, A. (2012) QR Codes in the Library: Are They Worth the Effort? Journal Of Access Services, 9(3), 101-110.
Hahn, J., & Zitron, L. (2011). How First-Year Students Navigate the Stacks: Implications for Improving Wayfinding. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 51(1), 28-35.


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