Improving “No —-” SignsAugust 26th, 2006 by infomancy
A recent LM_NET post asked for assistance in developing a better “No Food or Drink” sign. Here is my take on it – though please do keep in mind that this post will probably reveal a certain level of disconnect that comes from my working at a system office as opposed to a school library.
When it comes right down to it, this is not something that new clip art or improved skills in some software can help solve. The necessary skills for making this work are copywriting and effective policy/procedure development.
Copywriting refers to writing “copy” for advertising that can influence or persuade readers. Isn’t that our ultimate goal for non-informational signage in libraries? We need to convey a message to our users that encourages them to follow our desired behaviors. But notice the key word there – encourages. Instead of using a larger font for “NO FOOD OR DRINKS” could we use our new copywriting skills to re-word the sign?
- Thanks for helping keep your library safe from rogue food and drinks
- Even if you thirst for knowledge, please leave the drinks behind.
- YES RESEARCH AND READING (but without food and drinks, please)
- Dewey has food and drink at 641 – you can have them in the cafeteria
- Insert your suggestions here….
This is a skill that can also extend beyond convincing signage into better memos, newsletter articles, and other written communications. If you are interested in learning more about this, I highly recommend Copyblogger.
Even though I think copywriting could help develop better signs, what might be more important in a long-term sense is effective policy and procedure development. The first question should probably examine whether the no food and drink in the library is a policy, a procedure, an administrative guideline, or some other flavor of direction. Policy can only be set by the Board of Education and so doesn’t often come into play in something as specific as eating in the library. What you may find is a policy that restricts consumption of food and beverages to designated areas for health or safety reasons, but more likely the restrictions come from a source other than official policy.
That means there may be some flexibility. Can you live with a compromise? Is there a part of the library in which food and drink can be consumed? If students (and staff, let’s be honest) don’t have to sneak food and drink into the library, maybe they won’t feel the need to. In the end, I think this could help the library become a more welcoming place. Or, is there a food/drink place in the school that students could get a pass to visit during their library research?
The reason why I bring this up goes back to the first suggestion. In the end, our signs are pretty much suggestions. I am sure there are times we wish we were the librarian at a military academy where our every statement was met with “Sir. Yes Sir!” In the real world, though, dictatorship behaviors tend to not go over so well with students. Every time a student looks up at a “NO FOOD OR DRINK” sign and then leans over to take a stealthy sip from a soda your library’s disciplinary credibility takes a hit. We seem to have become a society obsessed with constantly having a beverage in our hands. Therefore our restrictions are probably seen as being “unfair” by going against a cultural norm. Is this a primary factor in the downfall of Western civilization? Well…I think I might be able to support a claim for it being a secondary factor. Rather than digress, however, let’s brainstorm some possibilities for our school libraries:
- Presumed: This is not our library, but their library. Like the gardeners, we get upset when someone walks in the flower beds, but maybe they just wanted a closer look at our expert work?
- Stipulated: Food + Drink + Books = Potential Problem – but management of a solution might be more effective than management of a problem. Then if you are halfway successful, you have 50% less of a problem!
- Suggested: Meet with the student council to work out some possible solutions. If you open the conversation with a willingness to compromise maybe a new management system can be developed?
- Suggested: By coming up with approved beverages/containers (water in containers with screw-on caps) it will seem less restrictive if some combinations (cans of soda) are restricted.
- Suggested: Never have a rule you cannot enforce. Instead, consider a procedure – food and drink have to be consumed at
. But remember, you don’t punish failure to follow a procedure.
At the end of the day, I hope the better “NO FOOD OR DRINK” sign has at least one small change. Be it through copywriting or procedural changes, let’s see if we can find a way to get rid of the word “NO.”