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Computer Services Wayfinding

Santa Clara County Library (SCCL)
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Innovation Leader: Nancy Howe, Deputy County Librarian, nhowe@library.sccgov.org

Problem Statement

A 2007 study of the Santa Clara County Library’s Public Access Computing by the Galecia Group noted many deficiencies in public computer choices, layout, and signage, resulting in a “dizzying array of choices for customers who usually have a straightforward request”. Our eight libraries had a lot of visual clutter by way of small signs and labels, which meant some of the most useful information was obscured from view. Public computers were hard to locate, inconsistently numbered and named, with counter-intuitive instructions. The report further stated, “The problem of too many signs and not enough information occurs at all of the libraries…Customers don’t know what to read when.” The user experience was confusing at best, and led to an estimated 215,406 computer-related questions asked of reference staff annually. This is an estimated hidden cost to library personnel of $540,000 annually.

Innovation

Santa Clara County Library created a computer services wayfinding system that anticipates customer needs and provides critical identification of computer services, locations, and instructions This series of signs and information that inform and educate customers so they are less likely to need staff assistance to complete computer tasks. SCCL consulted with Wendy Wilsher, a typographic and wayfinding specialist.

The easily identifiable family of signs have a clean, professional look, conveying an efficiency in the computer service provided at each library. The signs guide customers from the point of entry and on to computer sign-up terminals; they inform customers of the computer services available, allow for quick identification of computers and provide instructions for computer functionality at their fingertips. The sign system was designed to allow consistency and replicability across the Santa Clara Library network to ensure customers feel familiar and comfortable with the computers when visiting other libraries in the network.

The sign family consists of a variety of specifically designed sign hardware, however, a key consideration in the creation of this solution was the design of the signs at each computer terminal; sign holders were conceived with fix directly to the computer monitors for ease of reading and reference. Vocabulary is standardized and icons are used to assist customers with limited language skills.

Progress

Outcomes include increased self-service and efficiency of library computer customers, reduced frustration of customers, and reductions in number of questions. Key components in use that can be adapted by other libraries include

  1. Proof that the value of wayfinding and professional guidance is a cost-effective investment;
  2. Easily understandable and consistent wording and icons;
  3. Specifications for sign holders; and
  4. Methodology for developing a wayfinding system in a public library.