Skimp on the Details

Crosswalk signThe photo in this post is a crosswalk sign in Topeka. Take a good look at all those instructions …

Also note that the crosswalk sign talks to you, too. When the light is red, you are told every few seconds “Do Not Cross the Road” or something like that.

And then when the light turns green, and you get that little “walking dude” icon that means you can cross the street, there’s another voice that starts talking. This voice sounds … um … let’s just say he has a bit of a rural accent, and he tells people wanting to cross the street something to the effect of “it’s now ok to cross the road, and to look both ways” … or something like that (I have yet to actually understand what the guy says).

My favorite part of the crosswalk sign is the arrow with the “To Cross Push Button” instructions. The arrow makes it look like you actually need to cross the street to push the button … in order to cross the street. Hee.

So … doesn’t everyone know how to cross the road when there’s a crosswalk sign? I mean really – you push the button and wait for the signal to walk … right? This is pretty simple stuff, and it really doesn’t need four lines of text and two different voice recordings to help you successfully get across the road.

Guess what? Sometimes, we do the same thing to our customers. Too many instructions. Signage with detailed explanations. Websites that provide way too many details about a library service.

How about our library catalogs? There might be too many details there, too. For example, I just looked up “The Hobbit,” and found this line of text:

Description: 271, [4] p. : ill., maps ; 21 cm.

I can hear our customers now – “Oh great! This book is 21 cm tall  – just what I was looking for!” Not to mention the full MARC record that’s attached. Our customers are just clamoring for that.

What do our customers want? Well – the book. Probably with a simple button that says “check out now” or something similar. At this point, many of our customers are pretty familiar with the “add to cart” idea of a shopping website, and checking out something on a library catalog website is pretty similar.

Here’s your assignment – take a look at a set of instructions for something your library does, and see how much detail you can remove while still making those instructions useful. I’ll bet you will be surprised!

  • Bones Haney

     The detailed instructions on the crosswalk sign are a bit much, but the voices could be very useful to the visually impaired. I know you’re not saying that the most simple is always the best, but in some cases (especially accessibility) it’s easy to forget that what’s redundant to one person may be vital for another.

    As for the physical description of the book in the catalog, I can’t think of any reason why the public needs to see it. That’s probably a good example of something we could cut out to help streamline the patron UI/UE.

  • Triv

    Actually, I’ve had a number of people ask me how long a book is, so the number of pages is useful information for the patron.  It can help narrow down the results for students doing research, for example.  Or for middle schoolers trying to knock out a few AR tests to raise their GPA, for another – the last thing they want is Gone With The Wind when they need to read three books in two weeks to make a passing grade! 

  • Paul

    David, can you be a bit more detailed in terms of how we should complete that assignment?

    Joking aside, thanks for the wonderful reminder that we and those we serve in any context benefit when we take the time to look at what we do and, with as fresh a perspective as we can take, ask what might be different. And better.

  • Cheryl Becker

    Do people still come up to the desk with one of these “extra” numbers (like 271, or [4] p, or 21 c.m.) and say “can you help me find this book, here’s the number”?  That would always crack me up!

  • John Keogh

    Whenever I see something like this, I have to ask – is meant to instruct, or is this meant to provide legal butt-covering? “It’s not our fault! We told you!”

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  • Katherine T. Redwine

    Yes! either c1982 or the isbn or 324p. Our public catalog is not very intuitive when it comes to finding the call numbers.