We're taking a bit of a breather while the world rearranges its underpants. Meanwhile, the other blog is here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Work like a patron day

We don't take our customers' viewpoint nearly often enough in the design and layout of our libraries. The customer is always right when it comes to complaints about the technology but they're not much factored in in our main libraries. Let's take Helminthdale Central Library as a for instance.

The library's set in a shopping mall, which is good. Unfortunately, although we've a huge shop window we don't put anything in there that says what we do or how we do it. Not that anyone would be in a position to take much notice as we don't light the window, to save money. The entrance to the library is a flight of stairs. There's nothing at eye level to say that this is a library, this is our library, or that we do quite a lot of neat stuff that people might like to use. No pictures, no posters, no opening times, just a flight of stairs going somewhere...

And nothing to tell anyone that if they're likely to struggle with the stairs there's a lift to the library round the corner.

Once they've ascended to the North Col of the library, they come to a landing with a trestle table with some leaflets on it and some orange boxes with booksale books in them. Nothing that says 'library.' Then there's a big glass door, installed to reduce the draught in lending.

Once through the door, somehow, you're met with an unmanned desk and a choice of a path to the left or a path to the right. There are no clues as to where to go next, you must divine it by providential guidance.

If you take the path to the left you eventually reach an impenetrable barrier: you are trying to go inthrough the exit. If you take the path to the right you eventually pass through a security gate and see your first human being, unless we're having one of our habitual frontline staffing crises. This person is not allowed to tell you anything about the library: they are only allowed to return books and that is all. Should you ask them a question they are required to point you towards the enquiry desk, some fifty yards distant.

(We won't ask why, when we've a counter the size of Wembley Stadium and only two staff on the floor, these two staff would be on two service points, each not allowed to help the other serve customers.)

Slightly more distant from the enquiry desk and unsullied by sight lines or eye-level guiding is the stock we're desperate for you to be beguiled by to the point of wishing to borrow them.

And if you wander the maze of seven-foot shelving long enough you bump into the children's library. Dead obvious really.

What a good job we took advantage of a few weeks' closure this time last year to rethink the layout to make it more user-friendly.

6 comments:

:: Wendy :: said...

In my bright and distant past I vaguely recall reading some Journal papers on Library Design and layout published in The Journal of Environmental Psychology
http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/622872/description#description
There is actually a formalised technique called 'POE' (Post Occupancy Evaluation) that can be used to identify exactly the types of issues you've raised in this post....

Kevin Musgrove said...

This is true, it's a well-established public building design technique. And then it's all left to corporation architects and library managers...

Lavinia said...

This is quite unbelievable. Are you joking. This can't be true...good grief! The Vatican Archives sound more accessible!

Kevin Musgrove said...

Lavinia, this is our flagship.

And you'll notice that I haven't mentioned the reference library.

librarylizzie said...

Oh this makes me so angry! I had similar experience recently in my local library. The two library assistants were busy, a queue was building up at the return items side of the counter, and two *professionals* were sat at the enquiry desk, no more than 30 feet away, doing.....well, I have no idea...both doing busy stuff on their PCs...probably checking the patron-initiated reservations because of course, we can't let the users just reserve anything, you know! Or maybe they were un-authorising inter-library loan requests ( well, they cost money, you know). That feels better - got that off my chest!

Kevin Musgrove said...

Teamwork.