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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Signs in Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 30, 2012

During my career, I have always held a fascination with signs I see posted around libraries.

 

Some reflect the desire of the librarians to solve all the problems in the world with one wordy sign, other signs attempt to be sarcastic in an attempt to “get across” to the public some rule or message.

 

Librarians are rule-born people, always wanting to make sure that everyone knows the rules of the library, and obeys each and every one.

 

I have served on countless committees whose task was to develop guidelines and rules for libraries, regional libraries, and various consortia related to libraries; and each time that process develops an overwhelming document that could not be enforced if we tried our best.

 

I encountered my first library sign at the age of 16, working as a Page in my local public library shelving.

 

On my first night of work, I noticed a sign posted on the end of one of the bookshelves saying, “No Silence.”

 

I pondered about the sign, but didn’t ask anyone as I had lots of books to shelve.  The next night, a man came to me and asked, “What exactly does that sign mean?”

 

I told him that I didn’t know, but took him to the circulation desk to ask the question, so I too could hear the answer.

 

Well, the answer was that “the sign is new, and no one told us what it meant.”

 

The answer from the boss was that the unusual phrasing of the sign’s message was to make it noticeable, and it meant that you should be quiet while in the library.

 

Generally, that sign was not effective, in the same way signs relating to cell phone use and food and drink in the library have disappeared with the changes in society.

 

Today, any attempts to regulate cell phone use bring sharp comments from the public.  The same is true for food and drink in the library, especially since so many people walk around with water bottles and drink containers attached.

 

“Do Not Reshelve Materials” is still a common sign, as librarians make an attempt for people not to put books back on the shelf if you don’t know where they go.  “Materials” shows that libraries have more than books on the shelf these days, but only seems to confuse the issue at-hand.

Cute signs appear in some libraries, such as “Come In So We Can CHECK You Out,” or “Our Books are the Racy in Literacy.”

 

“If You Can Read This Sign, You Can Use The Library” tries to be amusing, but is similar to “Our Computers Are Not Available Because Someone Broke Them.”

 

I hate to pick on a particular library, but many years ago I was at the Wood County Public Library in Bowling Green for a meeting, and was excited to see their new building with its beautiful plaza facing the main street of the city.

 

Benches and trees adorned the plaza, and large glass doors and plate glass windows opened the library to the outside on a warm, sunny day.

 

Approaching the library entrance, I noticed the doors were literally covered with mismatched homemade signs that seemed to be added as another problem developed with the new facility.

 

“No Pets In The Library,” was at eye level, followed by “No roller skates” and “No Smoking,” and “Book Drop Closed When The Library Is Open.”

 

Adding to the mess of signs as posters relating to Summer Reading Club and a movie night at the library, then the newest and largest sign stating that candy must be brought to the desk where it would be “held in waxed paper” until you left.

 

The only professionally made sign said, “Enjoy Your New Library.”

 

I am sure that they were trying to get people used to the new library building, and had probably had various circumstances in dealing with behavior in the new building.

 

In recent years, libraries have had to deal with announcements required by law relating to no smoking, no animals, no guns, etc. in the library, as well as appropriate Internet use and children’s behavior.  Overdue fines will be charged, and don’t take library books in the restroom.

 

Perhaps the library that posted the following sign (and only this sign) had the right idea: “This library belongs to everyone, please treat it like your own home.”