What’s Broken At The Library?

Steven Bell recently posted about a retreat he attended with his public service colleagues. In the post he shared a great video of a presentation by Seth Godin called “Why Things are Broken.”

Godin discusses various like road signs, bike racks, or a million dollar laser cutter and they’re all broken. The video got me thinking about things that are broken in libraries. How many paper signs do you have up that explain how something works, or why you have a specific policy? There are plenty of pictures and posts about bad library signs. I know at our library we have some really old signs up that I’m sure us librarians don’t even notice anymore, but probably are unnecessary or could be updated.

How many policies really frustrate the people you are supposed to be serving? A no food in the library policy is one that I think is really broken. Sometimes you have good reasons for policies. We don’t let scissors leave the desk because our magazines keep getting chopped up. Perhaps some libraries don’t allow food because they have some rare materials that are irreplaceable. But articulate WHY these policies are in place, and look for exceptions (e.g. you can eat food on the first floor).

One library recently realized that their classification system was broken and decided to do something about it. [UPDATED: this article was supposed to be humorous, see the comments] The College of Eastern Nevada decided to abandon their outdated classification system in favor of something more familiar to their users…a Netflix categorization model!

Don’t be constrained by the past. Try to see the library with fresh eyes. Take a look around your library and ask yourself what’s broken? You might be surprised at all the improvements you can make.

Andy Burkhardt


  1. The signs… I hate the signs! I made a bunch of changes and upgrades to our computer lab just to get rid of the need for little signs posted everywhere!

  2. Yeah, paper signs can get pretty annoying, especially when they are really poorly done. I like though that you were able to get rid of them by doing some upgrades. Instead of explaining in detail how to do something on the computer, you just made it easy to do so that it needs no explanation. Nice.

  3. Andy,
    Thanks for the mention of our CronkNews article. Just wanted to let you know, our publication is satirical. If you look at the categorization conversion chart, you’ll get a good laugh. We couldn’t agree more with your sentiments about rules rules rules, and hope we can help shed light on the lack of creativity on our campuses.

  4. We use cards for the photocopiers & printers. You should see the signage on those card machines! Signs upon signs! And someone from the desk still usually needs to help the patron.

    I’m not sure the patrons would dig the reason no food is allowed anywhere is because, not only would we have to buy more garbage cans, but then we’d need the university to hire more staff to empty them and clean more regularly and there isn’t budget for that.

    And while the Cronk News is a parody site, there certainly are libraries that have done away with Dewey (http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6663145.html)

  5. Yeah it’s annoying when the solutions that you are given (like a card for copying) are broken. They’ve probably been there for ever and something new would be expensive. And you’re right, sometimes things are broken because of budgetary reasons. But could there be other solutions for things like food? Maybe only have a few garbage cans but put them somewhere central so people go to those, or have students create a petition to make it a priority, or shift funds from something else (I’m just brainstorming ideas here).

    Yeah, the Cronk story didn’t seem that far-fetched. I suppose I should check my sources better though. Thanks for posting the link! I knew I’d seen other libraries doing similar things.

  6. Thanks for commenting and letting me know it’s a humorous site. The story didn’t seem that unplausible. Several libraries are moving to more bookstore type models or popular sort of models. Who knows, maybe you came up with a great new idea.

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