I thought it was one of the truisms of the profession that library patrons never read signs. Signage is just that thing librarians do to try to control people who pay no attention to them.
It turns out, not for the first time, that I was wrong. Some patrons pay attention to signs. The library signage in Beaver Dam, WI got a lot of attention from one library loving family there, but not the good kind.
Usually when someone writes their local newspaper about the public library, they’re complaining about it, like that guy from Potsdam a couple of weeks ago.
This complaint is a little different, though. They’re complaining that the library isn’t welcoming enough. The problem? Too many signs, and of all the wrong type. I had to admit I was amused by the end, especially since this wasn’t my library.
There’s a garden area for patrons to visit. Instead of “Enjoy our lovely garden,” there are instead signs telling people not to touch or sit on stuff. Presumably the “don’t sit” signs aren’t on any benches, but they should be for maximum ironic effect. Dada signage.
The family claims to have found 45 signs telling people what and what not to do, and that was before they even entered the library building. It doesn’t make the library seem welcoming, but it does keep up the anal retentive stereotype of librarians.
There were signs saying who could and could not use which drinking fountain. They used to have signs like that in the south, I hear.
Then there’s the sign limiting how many people can sit at the tables. One might think that limit would be determined by physics. There’s only so much space around a table to sit, and double sitting, if that’s the sitting equivalent of double parking, usually isn’t a problem.
But physics be damned. The limit is apparently two, since the person says that “my family of three cannot sit together in the comic book section, because we would exceed the table limit.”
And here’s a response from the daughter to warm any librarian’s heart: “I guess we can’t come to the library and hang out together.” That’s called reading between the lines. Most people just ignore the lines.
There’s good reason to. If I’d been that family, I’d have sat three at the table and dared some officious busybody to enforce a rule like that in a public library, and with an adult no less.
Then there are all the other signs people ignore with good reason. My favorite is the one that used to be ubiquitous, but maybe not anymore: “No cell phones in the library,” sometimes including a picture where the phone in question looks like a WWII era walkie-talkie.
I’m sorry. Is there an NSA briefing going on at this library? Are you worried my phone might be a secret listening device? Didn’t think so. Phone stays with me.
Oh, I know, the reason is so people don’t start answering their phones and talking loudly and disturbing people. But talking loudly was a problem long before cell phones. That’s why we say “shush.”
“No food and drink” signs are popular, especially in academic libraries. Everybody ignored them long enough until libraries started putting in cafes, which is a much better solution.
Students studying for hours need some refreshment. Give them a place to go for that or be prepared to have your precious signs ignored.
Don’t even think about telling me what I can’t do. Just tell me where I can do the thing I’m going to do anyway without disturbing people or spilling croissant crumbs on this library book.
On the other hand, I guess it makes some librarians happy to think they’ve put up a sign banning some activity and think they’ve accomplished something. For some librarians, that might be the highlight of their day. Until patrons start complaining about them, that is.