The Eyes Have It

Feb 25th, 2010 Posted in signage, usability | Comments Off on The Eyes Have It

I recently finished reading Marilyn Johnson’s new book “This Book is Overdue.” The book has received great press in places like USA Today, Salon.com, Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal. Reviews are making their way to smaller markets too. The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Poughkeepsie Journal recently ran reviews; I’m sure others will follow. So the point of this post isn’t to review the book, since you can obviously find reviews in other places.

Instead, consider what could happen if “This Book is Overdue” continues to receive such widespread (and glowing) press: it could drive people to your library. These might be people who haven’t used a library in a long time. They might be people who have never used a library. And they might even want to borrow “This Book is Overdue!”

Is your library ready for new patrons? Here are just a few things to consider. Try thinking about them from a brand new user’s perspective:

  • What will a new (and potential) patron first see when they walk in your front doors? Have you created a welcoming environment?
  • Are your “policy” signs kind? Or are they an off-putting list of “do nots?”
  • Are your directional signs clear? Do they use language new patrons can understand?
  • Is your staff open and welcoming? Or are they hidden or unapproachable?


I am a strong believer in looking at things with “fresh eyes.” It gets more difficult when you’ve been in the same place for awhile though.

So here’s where these new users present a second opportunity.

Two librarians whose work I admire, Brian Mathews and Jenica Rogers, do great things with informal assessment. I have heard Brian talk about using “every patron interaction as an opportunity for assessment.” And take a look at the latest way Jenica is gathering patron feedback (Jenica was also responsible for one of my favorite communication channels: chalk notes on the sidewalk).

As new people begin using your library consider taking the time to ask them about their first impressions. Tell them how much you value their opinions, because they are seeing your library with fresh eyes. Perhaps develop a quick survey for them to fill out after they’ve signed up for a library card. Or give them their own “new users” suggestion board.

I’d be interested in how your library taps into the fresh eyes of your new users, either formally or informally.

Johnson, Marilyn. (2010). This Book is Overdue. New York, NY: HarperCollins.