Key Stats - Infographics Style!

Infographics are a great way to quickly disseminate key data about your library in a fun and visually pleasing way.  Using free sites like Canva, Piktochart, or Venngage, it's easy to create stylish and professional looking infographics for email blasts or the web.  Infographics can also be printed out in bookmark size, and inserted into books and other materials during check-out.  A great way to advertise the impact and value of your library!

The 2-Page Annual Report

You've had another busy and successful year at your library.  As most organizations do, you've taken the time to compile your departmental summaries, staff accomplishments, and annual statistics into an informative annual report.  Rather than simply submit it and file it away, why not take further advantage of all this hard work?  With a little extra effort, you can slim your report down into a two-sided handout to be used as an informative marketing piece for your library.  Features can include a letter to your community, colorful photographs, key statistics, and programming highlights.  Be sure to make copies available through your website and at main service and entry points throughout your building.  Don't forget to talk it up at Friends and Board events as well.  You've done great things this past year - let your community know it!

The 2015-16 2-page annual report for the F&M College Library.


Facing Inward, But Looking Outward

It's never a bad idea to take advantage of the back side of standing acrylic signage, especially at a public service counter or desk.  On the back side of our "Summer Hours" sign at Circulation,  a set of 8 simple Work Guidelines have been posted to remind our summer workers of their various duties and responsibilities.  Proactive reminders such as these reduce questions, empower workers, enhance departmental workflow, and improve customer interactions.

Visual Visionaries

One of the most important aspects of Visual Management is to constantly connect your employees to the mission of the organization.  At Gettysburg College, a large visual display titled, "A Heritage of Philanthorpy" greets students, alumni, and visitors in the College Union Building.  The display utilizes archival photographs (and the college's color scheme) to highlight key benefactors from the past.  It quickly and effectively puts "a face to a name" - highlighting the many men and women who have supported the mission of the college for generations.  Immediately, viewers feel a sense of connection, purpose, and pride.


P.U.S.H. It!

Are people in your library confused about the current state of projects, job searches, or strategic objectives?  Try creating and posting a Project Update Sheet or P.U.S.H. document.  It's a great way to communicate the status of ongoing projects, facilities needs, job searches, and completed projects within an organization.  We electronically update our P.U.S.H. document after every librarians' meeting, and post on our shared file server, and in our common staff areas.  For each initiative, we list a Title, Details, Status, and Results.  When projects conclude, they are moved to the Completed section at the bottom.  This helps with conveying a sense of accomplishment and pride across the library, while also building a quick list of achievements for the annual report.  Use our example, or put your own spin on it.  Either way, give it a try!

Our P.U.S.H. document starts as a Google Sheet on Google Drive.

The P.U.S.H. document shares whiteboard space with our 5S/Lean diagram
and Strategic Priorities document - as well as other staff ideas!


Poster Session Post

For a general overview of the benefits and principles of the Library as Visual Workplace, see our poster session documents from the 2014 PaLA Conference in Lancaster, PA.  Click the link below to view our poster, handout, and flip-book.  Enjoy!

"Go Visual: the library as visual workplace" Poster Session
2014 PaLA Conference, Lancaster, PA


Return to Shelver - X Marks the Spot

An important yet easy way to bring visual systems to your library is to consider your library’s re-shelving location(s).

Offering places for patrons to lay used but unwanted items is important to reduce:

  • the amount of time spent locating items
  • “missing” item occurrences because of shelving errors
  • money and time wasted re-ordering “lost” items

Maintaining re-shelving item locations also helps libraries track statistics. The items collected and marked “used” before re-shelving gives libraries an idea of what patrons are interested in. This is especially important for items that cannot leave the building, like reference books.

These use statistics are consulted when removing (a.k.a. deaccessioning or weeding) inactive titles and ordering new ones. Statistics also tell librarians and stakeholders which collections are being used and how heavily. Both are important when creating collection budgets and making the case for library funding (to department heads, college administrators, library boards, etc.).

Each academic, public, and commercial institution I have worked for offered re-shelving locations – some more successfully than others. Does your library have a place for your patrons to place unwanted items for staff to re-shelve? How consistently are your re-shelving locations used?

If your library’s re-shelving locations are under-utilized, have you stopped to consider why? Do you need a map to find a re-shelving spot, tucked out of sight? Is it in plain sight, but in a poorly trafficked local? Must you stand with your nose to the sign to read it? 

Room for improvement:  Low contrast "Please Do Not Reshelve Materials" sign is hard to read and fails to tell patrons where to go with unwanted materials.  Martin Library of the Sciences, F & M College.

Pink Shelves signal re-shelving location to library patrons. The space can be improved with a larger sign / larger font size with fewer words.  Shadek-Fackenthal Library, F & M College.

Never fear! The 5S of Visual Order and the 4 types of Visual Devices are here to help! Here is a short list of visual solutions to improve patron re-shelving location usage (now that’s quite a mouthful)…

  • Sort & Set in order: clear and designate a location(s) for re-shelving.

  • Identify the main arteries of traffic at your library (like, the path from the stacks to the circulation desk and restrooms) and place your re-shelving spot(s) at visible points along this path. Working within your patron’s natural flow boosts their adoption of new service points.
  • Include well-marked, legible signs with concise wording to grab attention and quickly tell patrons what to do at a glance.
  • Limit re-shelving locations to “re-shelving only” to cut confusion.
  • Keep re-shelving tables and shelves between hip and eye level (consider coffee tables for re-shelving in the lounge or children’s areas)
Success!  This children's room re-shelving spot is found by patrons leaving the kid's room, heading towards circulation and is clearly marked by large and clever "Reshelve Spot" signage. It must be cleared several times daily.   Manheim Townhip Public Library.

Manehim Township Public Library echoed the success of their children's room in the adult collection:  repeating the same color scheme & circular "return spot" motif. Vertical stands for adult signs would help visibility.

  • Shine & Standardize:  keeping it clean and consistent

  • Use the same signage throughout the building.
  • Maintain "fresh" & visible signage (not crumpled or hidden).
  • Check & clear re-shelving spots at scheduled intervals according to your library’s needs: for example, 3x/day for the children's area and 2x/day in the adult's area (consider keeping a log of this for staff to initial).

  • Success:  rinse and repeat
  • Keep up the good work! Ensure re-shelving areas are clearly designated and regularly cleared.
  • Observe outcomes & reconsider: Are there ways to improve? Locations or wording that would work better?

I'd love to see what your library's visual re-shelving locations look like and to hear your thoughts on how wonderful your re-shelving spots are or what you'd like to improve. I, for one, am looking forward to updating the re-shelving areas at the Martin Library of the Sciences this fall. I'll keep you posted!

~Jessica M. Gutacker
Franklin & Marshall College Library
Manheim Township Public Library


What grade does your media collection get?

How many times has a patron handed in an audiobook and informed circulation that one out of the 30 discs didn’t play – but, sorry, they don’t recall which disc was the problem? Or have you taken items out of the library yourself, only to be disappointed by the frequent skipping and freezing… or worse, total silence?

A visual solution, like a library media report card, can significantly improve patron library experience by:

  • giving patrons an outlet to report any problems they’ve encountered
  • increasing chances of reporting by placing “report cards” with the media (at the point of need)
  • saving library staff & volunteers time identifying problem items at check in
  • improving collection quality by repairing, replacing, or withdrawing items (thanks to patron review and reporting)

The idea for a media report card came to me one dark and frustrating night. My mother, sister, and I had planned a lady’s night in and I had checked out a period piece – that, miraculously, none of us had already seen – for the occasion.
It was a bumpy start.

The film froze several times in the first fifteen minutes, so we changed rooms and DVD players and eventually managed to skip past the bumpy beginnings. Soon my mother, sister, and I found ourselves lost in the story. We were enthralled and eagerly anticipating our sugar coated ending when, in the final ten minutes, the DVD froze. Noooo!!!

Desperately, we tried all the tricks:  fast forwarding over it, skipping ahead a chapter then rewinding, turning the DVD player off and on again, switching DVD players, gently cleaning the DVD, etc. Nothing helped. After an hour of trying we called it quits.
Having talked up the library to my family sometime beforehand (because none of my family are library users) I was incredibly embarrassed and disappointed. How many times had our library patron’s “relaxing” evenings come to a similarly scratchy halt? How could I keep recommending library media if this was the quality of the items going out? This wasn’t the first scratched DVD / CD I had checked out, but this was the first time it happened in company.

I wished we had some system to report problem DVDs the moment patrons encountered problems, so that the library and patrons could pro-actively improve our media collection and the user experience. The media report card was born.

My first report card asked:

“How do I play?
  • great
  • skips / freezes
  • wouldn't play
Which disc?  ___

After some trial and error, we removed the “great” option (as it was starting to waste paper), but we were thrilled with the positive patron feedback to our new DVD cleaning program. I was even more pleased to see other neighboring libraries pick up the system for their media collections.

Manheim Township Public Library of Lancaster Pennsylvania is the latest to adopt the system – putting their own stamp on it - and I am thrilled!

DVDs awaiting resurfacing thanks to the new media report cards

My only suggestions for visual improvement would be to increase the point size of the font and check boxes to report scratched or frozen discs and cut some words below – so that the patron’s eye can identify the paper’s purpose and use quickly.

What do you think? How has your library improved the quality of their media user experience? What grade would your library media collections receive?   

~Jessica Gutacker 
Franklin & Marshall College Library
Manheim Township Public Library


Architecture Available!

Using a library's existing architecture for more than one purpose is a key principle of smart placement. If a column is already serving its primary purpose of holding up the lobby ceiling, why not take advantage, and use it as a sign post?  This approach of "doubling up" the utility of your existing architecture can save both space and money.  You don't need to buy a free-standing sign support if you can simply use an existing column.  Many aspects of library architecture are ripe for "doubling up," including book stack ends, drop-ceiling soffits, entrance architecture, interior walls, and of course, columns!

For an innovative use of existing architecture, see the following Library Journal feature on Vancouver Community Library's five-story floating staircase -


Try To Be More Negative (Space That Is)


One of the key principles of smart placement is to "store things, not air."  We can see a nice example of this in the main Circulation Desk pictured above.  From the patron side, it appears to be a clean, square corner of the desk (in this case, our stapling center.)  But from the staff side, the library has utilized the hollow cavity of the desk, and turned it into a book truck storage space.  As books and reserves are returned by patrons, the cart is right at hand to fill for reshelving.  Turning this type of negative space into positive work space takes a bit of practice.  It requires a form of reverse thinking - seeing what is not there, in order to identify an opportunity.


Where's Your War Room?

Headquarters, War Room, Command Central . . . call it what you will.  One of the guiding principles of Visual Management is that every organization should have a dedicated location for posting internal communications.  For a library, this visual HQ can include the latest strategic plan, annual report, fundraising efforts, budgetary figures, circulation and ILL statistics, programming/events, newsletters, professional development opportunities, policy changes, and special projects.  More than just a back office bulletin board, the war room should seek to democratize information, share perspectives, and demonstrate the excellence of the organization on all levels.

Publication Wall (See Ye!, See Ye!)

During a recent group effort to update our library's graphic identity, we took the advice of authors Nancy Dowd, Mary Evangeliste, and Jonathan Silberman and created a Publication Wall.  In their popular 2010 book, Bite-Sized Marketing: Realistic Solutions for the Overworked Librarian, the authors recommend establishing a Publication Wall to centralize and evaluate all current library publications - print and web.  We selected the most popular spot in any back-office, the staff break room!  All staff were invited to visually evaluate the publications.  As we moved forward with the new graphic identity, updates continued to be posted to the Publication Wall.  The process allowed us to centralize our efforts, share ideas, align staff toward a common goal, and visually share our successes - all beneficial attributes of visual management.


Annual Opportunity

It's that dreaded time of year again, time for the annual report!  While compiling an annual list of accomplishments and statistics can seem tedious, visually engaging annual reports present a variety of opportunities.  A creative annual report can stand out as a visual celebration of an organization's achievements, and be directed to both internal and external audiences.  With an innovative approach, it can be both an administrative report, and an effective marketing, recruitment, and fundraising tool.  The entire staff worked hard to achieve these results - why not use this document to showcase your staff, highlight your mission, and boost institutional pride!

The University of Virginia Library has produced a host of visually engaging annual reports over the past several years.  Electronic and print copies are available to view and request at

"Visual Management for Libraries" article

As a follow-up to my 2013 article on the library as visual workplace, I recently expanded my thoughts into the related area of visual management.  To learn more about Visual Management (VM) and its application to modern libraries, please see my seven-page article titled, "Visual Management for Libraries", published in the online journal Library Leadership & Management (Vol. 28, no. 3), May 2014.  

Speed Limits

One of our most popular library services is network printing.  To expedite printing lines and avoid mishaps, we recently configured all print jobs to a limit of 100 pages, and/or 30 MB in size.  To convey these limits to our users, we added this simple visual reminder at the point of need (in this case, the release station.)  If limits change, a simple update to the visual is all that is necessary.


A Visual Device Marks the Spot

This archival folder marker serves a two-fold purpose.  First, it acts as a quick placeholder for the researcher, while also reminding them of the reading room rules for use (and copyright warning) on the reverse side.  A handy image of how to utilize the placeholder is provided at the top. 

Call Me Maybe?

Ever worked at the Research Desk and realized an hour into your shift that you never took the phone off forward?  This simple laminated card acts as a quick visual reminder that the phone is on forward to either the Research Office or Voicemail.  Over a dozen librarians regularly trade shifts at this desk, so accurate communication is vital.


Visual Management

One of the many strengths of the Visual Workplace is its flexibility and application to related disciplines.  In recent years, the related field of Visual Management (VM) has emerged.  While adopting many of the basic tenets of the visual workplace, VM extends the application of visual solutions into broader areas of internal and external communication, employee alignment, and organizational pride.  VM experts Steawart Liff and Pamela Posey define VM as a system that adds "visual depth and consistency to an organization's messages about its mission and goals."  It does this by "converting information about the company, its customers, and its performance into graphic displays which cannot be ignored."

For a good introductory article on VM, please see Stewart Liff's article, "Shaping Space for Success: The Power of Visual Management" (2012),2012/Vol41,Issue01/Vol41N1_shapingspacefor.pdf


Making the Environment Breathe the Customer


A highly "visual" organization derives its success from constantly focusing on the customer.  The Periodicals Reading Room pictured above illustrates a series of strategic environmental changes made between 2009 and 2013 to enhance user satisfaction.  By increasing natural lighting, adding historic artwork, and repositioning furniture, the library was able to transform this popular reading space at little cost.  It is important to remember that a visually dynamic workplace energizes employees as well as customers, building a strong sense of pride and ownership in the organization.


"The Library As Visual Workplace" article

After three years of experimenting with visual workplace principles, I've pulled together my thoughts in a five page article titled, "The Library As Visual Workplace:  Visual solutions offer the simplicity library employees (and patrons) need."  Read the article online as part of The Journal of Creative Library Practice or access the full .pdf article at