DarLynn Nemitz
IS209: Social and Cultural Impact of Information
Fall 2001

Library Cards:

The Reflected Image of Libraries©

Introduction

An exploration of images of libraries and librarians in popular culture was the theme of the group project I participated in during this course and it provided me with the background I needed to develop a topic for a final project. Discovering society’s perception of librarians as depicted in literature, art, and in popular media proved to be a very interesting area to focus upon. From the clothing styles librarians wear to the the layout and design of the institutions they work in, library professionals convery a meaning to this imagery. For information professionals, it is important to recognize that imagery is information: it can be interpreted, it can be analyzed and it can be evaluated by the public. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and impressions last much longer than the initial visit to the library, for better or worse. If we fail to consciously select the public image we wish to present, libraries and librarians may unintentionally send an image contrary to the one intended..

Decisions as to what type of information we send to our clientele should not be made lightly. As information professionals, we need to make a concerted effort at improving the public image of our library or institution, lest that image become obsolete, or worse, it could reinforce the old stereotypes. “Images reflect reality in the minds of those who think them. They may attract people, or repel them, encourage people or discourage them to respond favorably” (Sherman 1992, 21). Although the library card is a functional item, it should also be acknowledged that they are promotional materials as well. For this reason, it is vital that all promotional materials be designed to create a positive lasting impression in order to create awareness about that particular library's mission and promulgate positive public awareness.

Behavioral side to Graphics in Libraries

There is an emotional and psychological connotation to graphic information that often leaves a lasting impression that textual information does not. Therefore, it is important that we realize what we are conveying in regard to all aspects of the library. Although a conscious realization by staff and patrons may not occur initially, we send signals to the public in the form of the quality of service we provide, the maintenance of the equipment we provide for them to use, and the cleanliness and upkeep of the facilities we operate in. From the architecture and layout of the library to the cards we issue to patrons, our images not only allow, but also encourage an inference of who we are, what we do, and what we highly value in regard to patron services.

Image Renovation

“As attractive, likable and outgoing as we all hope we are, we have to admit that the stereotypes do linger on in people’s minds. The dingy, brown, dusty stacks, the restrictive quiet, the trauma of fines – a Freudian analyst would have a field day poking around in that corner of the collective psyche that harbors library neuroses” (Manley 1982, 27). Corporations hire marketing agencies to improve their image, create social awareness, and determine the image they desire to project to others. Should libraries be any less aware of public opinion? Libraries are generally thought of in a positive light, but hardly ever seen as a cutting-edge, exciting location to visit. It would seem libraries would like to change this image if to improve public relations and funding. Corporations frequently change their image to improve sales.

One example of an excellent change in image was created by the companies that produce beer. Their customer was portrayed as “a tired brick hauler slouched in a ragged chair while he stared mindlessly at TV, slurped beer from the can in his hand, and wiped his mouth with the shoulder of his dirty T-shirt.” Advertising campaigns have changed this image to one of a young, athletic sports-enthusiast, a connoisseur of beers who drinks either with friends on the weekend at a sports bar while rooting for his favorite team or while entertaining a special friend on his yacht (Sherman 1992, 22). This indicates that changing an image is possible, if a strong commitment is made by those who control the power to make such decisions. Changes in library image, although greatly discussed in literature, does not delve into graphic design elements.

Topic Selection

The selection of my topic is as a direct result of a discussion with fellow group members. While sharing articles about the frustration librarians have expressed in literature as a result of not being presented with professional status, we decided to examine contributing factors. My opinion is that it is difficult to exude a professional aura unless all components of the workplace also communicate the impression that this institution deserves to be awarded professional status. Pilots, military brass, police officers and physicians all wear unique uniforms, are granted respect and sometimes a sense of awe as a result of their position. One reason is the public recognition afforded them as a result of the unique qualities of the uniforms or badges they wear. The attorney is identified as a professional not due to his suit or briefcase, but due to the power he holds, the income he earns, and the institution related objects that further indicate his level of professionalism. Librarians have no such uniform, but other details may identify them as professionals.

There is a noted inconsistency in expressions of professionalism, both between different types of libraries and even within individual library systems. “What is surprising is that as ‘publishers’ librarians have not always applied the same rigorous standards to their own efforts as one would expect them to apply to those of others” (Usherwood 1981, 19). What may at first appear as a minor detail may be in a sense the calling card of information professionals: the library card. As a group, we decided to compare the library cards we had in our possession and determine whether or not a relationship existed. There was quite a variety in the cards from graphics to text, but they all had some similarities in common as well. This report will examine the image projected by the library in the form of the one library artifact that remains with the patron at all times: the library card.

Literature Review

While locating literature related to this topic, I discovered that I was unable to locate primary or secondary resources, whether a chapter or solely a paragraph in a text, written specifically about library card design, nevertheless how such design relates to image. However, ample literature does exist about advertising, marketing and promotion of profit and nonprofit corporations and businesses. “Everywhere we go, we come across symbols that communicate messages without the use of words. Street signs, restaurants, hotels, airports- all use symbols that communicate to people, regardless of whether they speak the same language” (Napoles 1988, 13). Library promotional literature provided ideas about how libraries have customarily promoted themselves and interesting comparisons could be made between the two. Finally, library architecture and library interior design information was also available and one author in particular related this topic to behavior patterns of patrons. Conceptually, human behavior can be affected by the arrangement of book stacks and furniture, the lighting of the library, and by color schemes selected and used throughout. It is also important to note that human behavior may change throughout time due to cultural forces and social adjustments.

Literature Importance

Omission of this topic in library literature illustrates yet another avenue of library image that has been overlooked. We should ask ourselves as professionals, how many additional items about our image have been overlooked, and how much is that contributing to the stereotypical image of the librarian. Attorneys realize that attention to detail is important when making an impression on a client, so they contract with designers for creating a look that represents their station: the layout of the office, the design of their business cards, and the watermarks on their stationery, all are created to make a striking first impression.

I came to the realization that this is an overlooked topic in library practice, and a subject not covered in current library literature. It is hoped that my research will encourage librarians to take the time to consider details in design, not only in library cards, but in all aspects of library accouterments when making selections that have a lasting effect.

Investigation of Card Design

The library card is in many ways a symbol of the library that issues it. Therefore I examined library cards from several Southern California public libraries in order to make a variable comparison. My initial findings indicated that there was little consistency in the design, yet they all portrayed an image. After examining these images, I then expanded my focus to include library cards from public libraries across the nation. After examining the various cards available, I devised a chart of comparative criteria that should be used to aid in library card design and selection.  

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Comparative Criteria for the
Evaluation of Library Cards

Accuracy

Information presented as fact should be truly accurate and reevaluated periodically.

  • Has the area code or zip code been reassigned since printing?
  • Has the address of the library changed due to a remodel or move?
  • Are the telephone numbers and area codes accurate?
  • If the information appears outdated, then perhaps the public may question the reliability of the library as a resource.

Appropriateness

The card should be appropriite for the commnity and age levels that utilize it.

  • Is one design appropriate for both adults and children?
  • If certain materials, such as R rated films, are limited to checkout by adults only, then a separate design for cards held by adults and minors could be an invaluable tool at the checkout desk.
  • Are statements of liability appropriate for cards for youth?
  • Is the design appropriate for the type of library it is representing?

Arrangement

The information arrangement should facilitate use and be legible.

  • Is the most useful information for the patron prominently displayed?
  • Is the print too large or small for use?

Comparability

The card should be compared to library cards for institutions that serve similar communities.

  • Comparisons need to be made to create awareness about what new formats are available. One example is the key ring card – not all libraries have this design, but it has high utility for those that do.
  • By determining what makes a superior card, you can determine whether improvements can be made to the one you possess.
  • How does the card compare to those for libraries serving similar communities? 
  • How much and in what ways do they overlap?
  • How is one superior?

Completeness

Needed information should be listed on the card. Determine if important information has been omitted.

  • Is the web address of the library included? If the patrons are able to search the catalog and renew books online, this could be an invaluable bit of information for them.
  • Library branch addresses or phone numbers?
  • Renewal telephone numbers can be convenient for patrons who lack Internet access.

Content

The content should provide added-value, whether in providing utility or improving and conveying a positive image.

  • Is there unnecessary text printed on the card?
  • Does the content add or detract from either the card's utility or the library’s image?

Distinction

Distinction is important as it sets the card apart from others; its attributes define it in a special way.

  • Determine the distinctive features some cards possess that make them exceptional and standout from others.
  • A distinctive icon that is repeated throughout the library system can be a powerful identifying symbol of quality.
  • A distinctive shape can make one library card stand out from other plastic cards.

Durability

Cards that are frequently used should be durable enough to hold up under years of use.

  • Barcode imbedded in the card are much more durable than barcodes adhered to the exterior of the card.
  • Plastic cards tend to be more durable than laminated paper cards.
  • The thickness of the plastic may add to durability, but may hinder placement in a wallet.
  • Key tags may break easily at the key ring hole if unreinforced.
  • Are replacements costly?

Illustrations

Illustrations and graphic designs may vary in quality and speak more about the library than one might initially imagine.

 

  • Does the illustration integrate with the other elements well?
  • Graphic designs should not be randomly used without consideration. Designs should serve a purpose.
  • Does the design add information for the user? A photograph of the main library could be a design and it adds identifying value.
  • Graphics may be artistic and project the new image of the library.

Revisions

When information is no longer valid, then revisions should be made. The entire layout of the card should be considered, not only the information that has changed.

  • Is content kept up to date?
  • If the design or information appears to be outdated, then perhaps the public may question the reliability of the library as a resource.
  • Are the revisions significant enough to justify the cost of replacing currently held cards?

Text

Text printed on the card should serve a purpose.

  • Is there identifying personal information on the card to separate it from other family members’ cards.
  • Is a signature required?
  • Are legal notices printed on the card, and if so, do they have legal background to support them?

Uniqueness

The design and content should make a unique contribution that somehow gives the card a character all of its own.

  • Superior content, layout, graphic design, or some combination of these elements can define a library’s noteworthy uniqueness. These need to be identified and evaluated.
  • A unique size or shape can convey a particular library image of being an unconventional institution.
  • Key tags are gaining in popularity and unique in themselves. Think of alternative shapes and designs that would convey the library’s image in a positive light.

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Suggestions for Improving the Image

Investigating the image of the library, bringing awareness of details to the forefront, and suggesting improvements to that image were the goals of my research. The criteria above should assist in evaluating the layout and design of the current library cards we hold, but we must also be thinking of the future and not be hesitant to stretch the boundaries of what we determine should be the parameters of this construct. For this reason, I offer several suggestions as to the improvement of the design of library cards, and thus the image of the library and its librarians.

Telephone numbers are invaluable to patrons seeking answers to their questions and when a reference desk is only a telephone call away, patrons are more likely to use it. Of course, sufficient staff needs to be assigned to those telephones to ensure that patrons are served in an expedient manner and not placed on hold for great lengths of time. Many patrons enjoy having the ability to renew books over the telephone and if this service is available either through an automated system or by calling the circulation department, then that telephone number should be printed on the library card to provide ease of access.

The library card need not necessarily be in a credit card shape, in fact, any shape that would allow at least one flat surface with a barcode would be sufficient. The objective is to delineate the library card from other cards such as credit cards in order to present the library as a succinct entity. Perhaps we need to consider adding our vision statement to our cards as a note to the cardholder of what our values are.

Technology is progressing in leaps and bounds. Digital photographs are becoming less costly and eventually these could be incorporated into the library card. If images of the owner were embedded, then this may reduce some of the unfortunate losses that libraries and patrons experience each day. A picture identification could cause a reduction in the number of people who share their cards with friends who then checkout materials and do not return them. Additionally, the use of stolen library cards for checkout of expensive art materials, DVDs, and compact discs, could decrease as well, adding a level of security for the cardholder. Patrons would be more likely to guard and respect a library card that contained their photograph than they currently do.

The current trend for libraries is to go online with a web catalog and web links to useful websites. Additional services available at some library websites include 24/7 online reference service with a librarian, and access to subscription databases with full text magazine or newspaper articles and value-added information. With the addition of these services, it is logical that libraries should wish to include their web address on their library card. This addition could stand as a hallmark of advancement into the 21st century and an indication of the value the library places on providing a variety of resources to patrons as well as an indication of the level of advancement of the technology available. A note of interest: this research is being performed at the end of 2001 and yet a very low number of the library cards I examined provided their webaddress on the card.

Conclusion

There is an inherent cost to the promotion of any business or corporation and the library is no exception as it is a type of nonprofit corporation. Librarians and information professionals must come to the realization that they are in competition, not only with other libraries, but in other service providers both on the Internet and in their communities. Libraries and archives contain valuable information, but their utility has not been seen nor appreciated by the public because creating public awareness of their value has not been a top priority, instead collection development and programming have often taken the bulk of the budget.

As we now are at a critical turning point with the advent of commodification of information, we need to voice our benefits including free access to information to the public. Administrators can do this by being willing to allocate their budgets to provide for either the hiring of promotional consultants or the training of staff to create such promotions. Committees should be formed to decide upon which materials best represent the vision statement, the mission statement, and future library image. Library image materials should be seen as an investment into the professional careers of existing and future information professionals. If we are to change the image of the librarian, we must change the dated trappings as well. Library cards are our calling card to the communities we serve and therefore are the reflected images of libraries.


Appendix 1

Southern California Library Cards

  • Six color combination
  • Open book symbol
  • Artistic layout
  • Web address listed
  • Barcode indicates automated system
  • Renewal telephone number
  • “Outside of the area” telephone number
  • Library information telephone number

  • LAPL - Key card
  • Six color combination
  • Open book symbol
  • Artistic layout
  • Web address listed
  • LAPL - Key card format
  • Barcode indicates automated system
  • Renewal telephone number
  • “Outside of the area” telephone number

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Motto
  • Back of card
  • Barcode
  • Legal notice
  • Signature Block

  • Two colors
  • Library name on barcode
  • City name and symbol
  • Barcode sticker on card
  • Legal notice
  • Signature block
  • Telephone number to report loss

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library branches and addresses
  • Library telephone number
  • Graphic of peninsula
  • Cooperative association
  • Barcode
  •   Legal notice
  • Signature block

  • Three colors
  • Library name
  • Motto
  • Graphic
  • Barcode
  • Legal notice
  • Signature block

Appendix 2

United States

Library Cards

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Signature Block
  • Graphic
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Legal notices – 2 lines
  • Signature block
  • Graphic

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Graphic
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Attractive, simple layout
  • Motto
  • Library historical information: established 1858.

  • Six colors
  • Library name
  • Attractive graphic
  • Library historical information.
  • Three colors
  •  Library name
  • Six colors
  • Graphic

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library Address
  • Library Telephone number
  • Graphic
  • Cooperative system member
  • Signature block
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Signature block
  • Web Address

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Signature block
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Graphic
  • Library address
  • Library telephone number
  • Library hours of operation

  • Two colors
  • Library Name
  • Legal notices
  • Signature block
  • Barcode
  • Three colors
  • Library name
  • Motto
  • Web Address
  • Library address
  • Library telephone number

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Library telephone numbers
  • Barcode
  • Graphic
  • Three colors
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Library telephone numbers
  • Library webaddress
  • Barcode
  • Graphic

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library city/state
  • Library telephone numbers
  • Legal notice
  • Graphic
  • Signature Block  Expiration date
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Graphic
  • Patron’s Name, address, phone, drivers license, and expiration date

  • Two Colors
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Graphic
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Patron name
  • Signature block
  • Legal notice
  • Expiration date

  • Two Colors
  • Library branch addresses
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Library telephone numbers
  • Graphic
  • Signature Block
  • Library hours

  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Library telephone number
  • Library hours
  • Graphic
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Library telephone numbers
  • Graphic

  • Three colors
  • Library name
  • Web Address
  • Graphic
  • Interesting shape
  • Two colors
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Library telephone numbers
  • Web Address
  • Graphic
  • Interesting shape
  • Motto

  • Multicolor card - Adult Detroit Public Library
  • Separate adult card
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Library telephone number
  • Library web address
  • Multicolor card - Juvenile Detroit Public Library
  • Separate juvenile card
  • Library name
  • Library address
  • Library telephone number
  • Library web address

To date, this is the most attractive, functional card available. The barcode is located on the reverse along with a signature block and legal notice. An image was not available at this time.

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Resources

Cohen, Aaron and Elaine Cohen. Designing and Space Planning for Libraries: A Behavioral Guide, R.R. Bowker Co.: New York: 1979.

Fox, Beth Wheeler. The Dynamic Community Library: Creative, Practical, and Inexpensive Ideas for the Director, American Library Association, Chicago: 1988.

Kohn, Rita and Krysta Tepper. You Can Do It: A PR Skills Manual for Librarians, The Scarecrow Press, Inc.: Metuchen, NJ: 1992.

Manley, Will. Snowballs in the Bookdrop: Talking it over with your library’s community, Library Professional Publications, Hamden, Connecticut: 1982.

Napoles, Veronica. Corporate Identity Design, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company: New York: 1988.

Pollet, Dorothy and Peter C. Haskell, comp. And edSign systems for libraries, R.R. Bowker Company, New York: 1979.

Rettig, James. 1996. Beyond "Cool": Analog Models for Reviewing Digital Resources. In: Online [online]. Anderson, SC, Sept. 1996. [cited 7 December 2001]. Available at: http://www.onlineinc.com/onlinemag/SeptOL/rettig9.html.

Sherman, Steve. ABC’s of Library Promotion, 3rd ed., The Scarecrow Press, Inc.: Metuchen, NJ: 1992.

Tuggle, Ann Montgomery and Dawn Hansen Heller. Grand Schemes and Nitty Gritty Details: Library PR that works, Libraries Unlimited: Littleton, Colorado: 1987.

Usherwood, Bob. The Visible Library: Practical public relations for public librarians, The Library Association, London: 1982.

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