Infomancy n. 1.The field of magic related to the conjuring of information from the chaos of the universe. 2.The collection of terms, queries, and actions related to the retrieval of information from arcane sources.

Improving “No —-” Signs

August 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?

Possible signage:

  • 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.”

4 Responses to “Improving “No —-” Signs”

  1. Doug Johnson Says:

    Hi Chris,

    For what it’s worth, these have always been my only library rules (and they are all positive!)

    Johnson’s Library Rule Rule: Never have more than three rules for your media center:
    - doing something productive
    - be doing it in a way that allows others to be productive
    - be respectful of other people and their property.

    There are many sins of omission or comission that aren’t covered under one of these rules. (Food and drink – under repect of people and property, yes?)

    All the best,


  2. Jim Elliott Says:

    My suggestion (accepted at FSU’s Strozier Library) was:

    “Please enjoy your food and drinks before entering the Library.
    Thank you!”

    Jim Elliott
    North Florida (my director doesn’t want me to be more specific)

  3. Christopher Harris Says:

    Jim – What a positive and affirming statement. I love the invitation to “enjoy…before entering”

    Doug – Those are pretty much the same three rules I always had in my classroom. I used: Respect People | Respect Ideas | Respect Things. That pretty much covered everything.

    In a (sadly) funny note, I was playing on a game server the other night and they had a scolling list of 14 (FOURTEEN!!!) rules that had to be followed. These are arbitrary human-enforced rules above and beyond game mechanics. There were actually more rules than people playing on the server…not to mention more than twice as many rules as minutes in a round of gameplay! And to top it off, all 14 of them were statements of negativity. I didn’t stick around.

  4. Mark Pederson Says:

    We are now using:

    Please enjoy your food and drinks before entering our Clinic. Everyone else here is hungry and wants to eat your food.
    Thank you!