October 20, 2014

Less Clutter, More Useful | The User Experience

Keeping libraries free from clutter shouldn’t be solely the purview of the fastidious. It’s something we all can and should be able to achieve. With less clutter, people will have an easier time of finding what they want, and they’ll have a more peaceful experience. Conversely, clutter in and around the library is a user experience issue we all must address.

Tidy up the following clutter hot spots, and your library will run leaner and cleaner.

Websites

This column has often advocated for smaller, more effective library websites, and we’ll start there once again. If you’re not convinced that your website is full of clutter, take a look at the site’s analytics (if you aren’t tracking analytics, start now).

How much of the site’s content is used on a regular basis? My guess? Way less than half. If something isn’t getting used, or is used only by library staff, remove it so you can highlight more prominently content that people are actually using. Also, remove any clip art or stock photographs. The resulting pages will be easier to read.

You can similarly declutter the writing on your site. Be concise. Remember, instead of telling folks that “the library is the cultural hub of the community and aims to provide excellent customer service,” it is far more effective just to demonstrate it.

Collections

Our collections are prime candidates for decluttering. Much like looking for unused content on your website, you need to pore over circulation statistics to find items that aren’t working hard enough to justify the shelf space they require. Keeping the classics is one thing, but holding on to Windows 3.1 for Dummies is another. Recycle anything that’s collecting dust.

Taking a wider view of your holdings, you might find that an entire segment is cluttering things up. Your print reference collection is probably already much smaller than it was five years ago. Can the rest of it disappear? Do you ever see all four of the microfilm readers in use at the same time?

Here’s a specific suggestion: pay attention to your magazines. They get messy quickly.

Building entrances

The entrances to our buildings are often littered with free newspapers, public transit schedules, community events flyers, and library advertising. Yuck. Make sure you’re making a good first impression by keeping this area neat and focused on materials of value to your members.

Brochures, newsletters, etc.

These displays often fall prey to the same mechanism of expansion as the above print materials in entrances: more items get piled on, rendering each one less likely to receive any attention. Be selective in your presentation of these items. Ultimately, aim to be selective in their development, producing fewer, more relevant items in the process.

Programs

While superfluous library ­programs might not be a major problem in your physical space, they can clutter a library’s mental space. Is your library continuing to host long-standing programs owing more to legacy than enthusiastic attendance? Perhaps it’s time for them to be put out to pasture. Freeing up time and financial resources can enable you to try something new.

Signs

Hanging a large number of signs can inadvertently create an unrestful environment, especially if the signs are not well designed. Take down every sign that you can. In the future, instead of putting up a sign, try to change the circumstances that are prompting you to do so. Your members will be better served, and your space will look better for the effort.

Your website, again!

Clutter is such an epidemic on library websites that it deserves a second mention. Have you already reduced the amount of stuff on your site? Consider cutting more. While you’re at it, consider setting up a regular schedule of decluttering to ensure that there’s a counter­balance to the regular process of adding new pages and sections.

All together now

Since clutter appears in so many different sectors of the library, it requires a whole-system approach toward great user experience in order to address it. Decluttering demands cross-­departmental collaboration and the willingness of all staff to be attentive and open to change.

The final goal of decluttering isn’t to create a stark or even minimalist aesthetic; the goal is to increase simplicity and devote more time and effort to the services that are most important.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Aaron Schmidt About Aaron Schmidt

Aaron Schmidt (librarian@gmail.com) is a principal at the library user experience consultancy Influx (influx.us). He is a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker. He writes at walkingpaper.org

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Comments

  1. Now comes the fun part – to persuade management and funding agencies that clutter doesn’t clear itself up (online, “in person” . . . . ) – maintenance takes a LOT of staff time. And please don’t mention volunteers.

  2. Yay! Thank you for advocating, ever quietly, for recycling weeded books! We at Recycled Reads approve your message.