Good Signs are Friendly


Sunset over New York City from JFK airport.


Hi!  Did you miss me?

Well, I had a really good reason for not posting anything.  I was getting a first-time-ever stamp in my passport.  The hubby and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary (which happened in June) with a trip to Iceland (because you can’t see the Northern Lights there in June).

Why Iceland?

  1. Flights were relatively cheap.
  2. It’s a European country.
  3. Most people there speak English.
  4. They drive on the right side of the road.
  5. They have a plethora of wonderful sights and activities including one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, which happened to be on my bucket list.

After a co-worker enthused about the country, I investigated it, then I enthused about it to my hubby, and after HE investigated it, we agreed that it sounded like a good place to visit.

So, we booked an Airbnb apartment in Reykjavik, got our passports, booked our flights, booked a tour and a car, and went on a crazy shopping spree for all the stuff we might need.

(And then I had a surprise surgery 3 weeks before leaving, so effectively got out of hauling my own luggage.)

We had The. Best. Time.

We got to do and see everything we wanted—whale watching (we saw whales!), the Northern Lights (from our balcony, nonetheless!), did the Golden Circle, and did lots of shopping and wandering about Reykjavik.  My favorite thing was seeing Gullfoss waterfall.


Gullfoss Waterfall

My second favorite thing was the view from the balcony and living room of the apartment where we stayed.  We could see two of the three famous landmarks of Reykjavik from our balcony, as well as the harbor, and we cuddled up on the leather couch each evening and watched the city lights, the changing clouds, and the fading sunset.


View from our balcony

And while I was in Iceland, I learned something that I’m going to bring back to my library (oh, yeah, I naturally visited the Reykjavik City Library, too).  Signs are important.  GOOD signs, that is.  Signs are friendly.  If you want people to feel comfortable and secure and happy in your establishment, provide good signage.  If you have a clientele that speaks many languages, then be sure that your signs contain good non-verbal cues as well as words (think the international signs for men and women’s restrooms).  This is something that Iceland seems to do particularly well (and the JFK airport does NOT.)  I could tell where the bathrooms were, the food court, where the family restrooms were, where to change a diaper, and where the duty-free shops were just by a quick glance at the signs—which were also in Icelandic and English.

Places that didn’t have good signage were a source of great frustration and caused me a lot of stress and fear.  I wanted to go to the right places.  I wanted to do the right things.  I didn’t want to get in the wrong line, or have to ask stupid questions.  At JFK, there was nothing to tell me where to go after clearing one part of customs.  Then, nothing telling me where to go after the second part.  Did I need to go to “Departures” or “Connecting flights?”  One would assume that because I was catching a connecting flight, that I would follow the signs for connecting flights.  Not so.  According to the airport personnel (whose station was not labeled), it all depended on which airline I was coming from (and where was that on a sign?)  My particular airline required that I follow the “Departures” sign.  And nobody told me that we would need to go through security a second time.  And, “All Gates” does not mean all gates—we got in the wrong line and had to switch to a line several yards away with the exact same signage!!  And, going through security—are you kidding me??  After getting in the line I was told to get in, I was curtly ordered into a second line, and a few minutes later, irritably waved back into the original line—by the same person.  My blood pressure is skyrocketing just thinking about it.

Which leads me back to my original proposition.  Good signs are friendly.  Yes, patrons will miss signs, or not bother to read them, but I think that the majority of people don’t want to waste their own time, or ours, by asking directions when a good sign will tell them the answer quickly and efficiently.  Does your library have good signs?  Do visitors know where to find the computers or the bathrooms without having to ask you?  Can someone who doesn’t speak English find your meeting room without a problem?  If you’re often being asked the same question, then perhaps your signage is the problem.  I have heard the position that we don’t want to have obvious signs, because they are unfriendly, making people think that adults aren’t wanted in the children’s area (for instance).  After this trip, I most strenuously disagree.  Good signs—big, obvious, well designed signs are the friendliest thing we can do to help people feel secure and confident as they navigate through our sometimes confusing buildings and collections.  And I have to say that, next to JFK, the place with the worst signs on our trip was the Reykjavik City Library.  In a six story building where the library was contained on the 1st, 2nd, and 5th floors, the only signage was a small printed paper next to the arrows in the elevator, and on the ends of the stacks.

It figures.

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