How to create a more welcoming hospital library?
September 2, 2011 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Library anxiety - my patrons have it. How can I make our (already architecturally interesting and physically comfortable) hospital library feel more welcoming, while still remaining professional? What makes you feel comfortable in a library? Special snowflake details to follow.

I work at a medium-sized hospital library and have recently expanded our outreach efforts to nurses. Several have said they find the library to be "unwelcoming," both to nurses specifically and in general. I am looking for suggestions on how to make the library feel welcoming. I welcome ideas from both librarians and non-librarians, health professionals and non-health professionals - the more the merrier!

The library consists of only 2 rooms that aren't terribly large, and that are already decorated with nice curtains, comfy chairs, architectural wood mouldings. We have 10 computers for patron use and a completely electronic journal collection (so no nursing journals to physically display).

Our front room (main entrance area) has a now-unused staff desk with signs pointing inside. My cubicle is in a corner of the library. I try to greet people and be friendly without being intrusive. But I'm effectively on the Ref Desk all the time, so I have to look down to do my other work (processing journal article requests, creating video tutorials, etc.). I recognize this is part of the problem but I don't have any solid ideas for changing it.

We're lacking welcome signs at this point, so specific ideas about that are, erm, welcome.

posted by brackish.line to Education (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This may not be an issue of how cozy the library is, but rather that people don't know what to do when they get there. The hospital/research institution where I used to work offered classes on what was available in the library for employees, had "open house" days where there were snacks and people could freely talk to the library staff. etc. Once the employees are comfortable with the library, they will be able to advocate the services to patients so they feel more comfortable coming in.

You might also want to create some color displays or handouts that show how to do some basic things on the computers. Maybe develop materials for the patient packets that include services offered by the library.
posted by Kimberly at 10:15 AM on September 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

I know you say that the rooms you have are small, but try to space out the seating as much as possible. When I go to the library, I'm going to read or look something up or work--not to socialize--so I try to maximize the physical distance between myself and other users. It just makes me more comfortable. I would rather sit on an uncomfortable seat outside of arm's reach of another patron than sit right next to someone on a cushiony couch. Same with the computer stations. If the screens are pointed in a very public direction, I'm uncomfortable using them, even if I'm doing something completely boring. Privacy is nice.

Lighting is another thing. If I'm in a quiet room with overhead fluorescent lighting, all I can hear is the horrible whining hum of the bulbs. I don't know how much you'd be able to change something like that, though.

You should also ask (maybe with a friendly sign and a suggestion box, if that would make it easier for you?) the folks who have specifically said they find the library unwelcoming what you could do to make the library more welcoming for them. They are the ones who will be using it, after all.
posted by phunniemee at 10:18 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

How is the lighting? Is it cold, fluorescent? That can make a person feel a space is impersonal and uninviting. If it is institutional lighting, see if you can swap our the bulbs for something warmer, and maybe get some floor lamps as well?
posted by Windigo at 10:19 AM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is tough. You've already mentioned several of the things that I've thought of, so I'd imagine that some of the issues are very specific to the people who use your facility. Maybe a quick survey would help; you can use an online tool such as SurveyMonkey or just do it by paper.

The important thing is that you don't want to just make something "nice" and then hope that draws people; you want to hit them where they need it the most. Go where they already are.

WHAT makes it feel unwelcoming? Is it the way they're treated by staff, the usage of space, the fact that they have to mix with patients/doctors (or the fact that they feel segregated from patients/doctors)? Is it the location of the library itself within the hospital complex?

You may not have the resources to do a full-on makeover, but it's often helpful to brainstorm the fantasy library vs. the things you can do. Don't get frustrated by the inability to get the fantasy; use it to inform smaller or slower changes that can help you get closer, step by step. So maybe try asking, "What are the top three things you'd love in your dream library? What are the top three things you'd change in the existing library? What are the top three problems?"

Can you do some outreach to all of the nursing staff that includes the people who don't use the library? Email blitz (if they use email regularly), flyers that go in people's mailboxes.

This is completely random, but one thing I had a lot of trouble with when I started grad school was that I couldn't find a convenient hang-out place for longer chunks of time between classes. Can people eat there while they work? Can they catch naps? Are there areas available for privacy, and areas suitable for groups?

If you can make your place a real community resource, they'll talk about it. I just did a piece on our retiring university library director, who said that it's not about the books or technology: it's the service and the connections, and that leads to innovation.
posted by Madamina at 10:23 AM on September 2, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your feedback so far! I had a strong suspicion that Mefites would be great folks to ask. :)

The nurses I spoke with couldn't ID exactly what would make it feel more welcome. They suggested a "Welcome to the Library" sign. I'm a bit stuck on imagery here, though, because things that seem friendly to me often run into being unprofessional (e.g. cute animals).

We have modern-ish chandeliers (best way I can describe them) that give off warm light, as well as (incandescent) floor and desk lamps that folks can move around.

Out of the 10 computers, 3 of them are "very public" - with your back and screen facing an entrance. The others are varying degrees of private, with 2 being completely so (enclosed study alcoves with soft benches & a table).
posted by brackish.line at 10:25 AM on September 2, 2011

Best answer: Don't hold too tight to the "professional" image...

I'm in a corporate R&D library, with a solid patron base of either MBA's or PhD's. The two librarians prior to me scared them all off - brusque personalities, rigid rules, unwelcoming all around. I've got a really dynamic boss who worked very hard in bringing users physically back into the libraries (despite a majority of our collection being online as well these days). User surveys that we do on a regular basis, much to our professional chagrin have two things mentioned the most - 1) a candy dish with "good stuff" and 2) seasonal decor. It seems that a lot of adults have a very set thought in their mind of "what a library should be" and even though I'm working with them on a patent search, they still want a poinsettia on the reading table in the winter.

The other thing I've found that works well for me personally, is personalized service. I know the favorite candy of all of my patrons, but that's easy. I also know their research areas, and am proactive about sending them articles of interest. I know their names, if they have kids or pets, things like that. You probably already do this, but remember you're in a service profession. Notch it up a bit from "unobtrusive" to curious, inquiring, almost "trying to make friends" mode. I'm always open for someone to come talk to me, regardless of if it's about a new patent search they need done, or if I have the best suggestions for where to take their kids over the weekend if they're new to the city. Every interaction is a potential reference question, and not in a bad way. :)
posted by librarianamy at 10:36 AM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Try getting some plants. You'd have to make sure they're not going to attract bugs that will eat your books, but a nice plant really adds to a comfortable atmosphere.

Also, you could give them cute medical-themed names, like Ivy (I.V.) or Penni (penicillin), etc. You could even have a fun contest to name them. This will give your patrons a sense of ownership.

It could be that the nurses feel that the library holdings are geared towards doctors and that they are being overlooked. Maybe consider asking a few nurses that are familiar with your library if that's the case.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:41 AM on September 2, 2011

Just one suggestion: I wonder if the library is extraordinarily quiet, especially compared to the rest of the hospital? There's a certain quality of silence that is pretty unwelcoming, IMO - can you have some kind of ambient music playing in the background?
posted by muddgirl at 10:42 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you need a little more interaction -- but not forced :) Do a "Patron of the Month" poster, share some unusual parts of your collection, spotlight new offerings, etc. Our health sciences library has a wonderful art gallery. You're giving people something to talk about if they want to, and something to look forward to, but they can still get in and get out under the radar if they don't have the energy to interact.

And make sure you have the faces and names (and little bios, maybe) of library staffers available so people know with whom they're dealing at the front desk. That grumpy-looking spinster at the front desk is actually world-famous lace doily expert Agatha McGee, who would love to share knitting patterns but has been taught to be polite and not speak until spoken to ;) You'd probably have a lot of fun learning more about the people you work with, too.
posted by Madamina at 10:43 AM on September 2, 2011

I'm an academic reference librarian and I work with a lot of nursing students. Do you have money to get a few subscriptions to print journals? If not, could you send out an email asking for any staff members copies they no longer want? You could also have more general interest magazines if people want to use the library as a place to relax.

Another possibility would be a free book exchange for leisure and professional books.

Previewing above, I love the idea of using the walls to display art.

Have you tried offering short workshops to teach people how to use your resources?
posted by mareli at 10:47 AM on September 2, 2011

Former librarian here. The answer is donuts. Have periodic "meet the library and librarians" orientation, with coffee and donuts. Publicize it well with signs in the elevators and elsewhere. Talk about available resources, but keep it friendly and informal and have PLENTY OF DONUTS.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:51 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm not a feeling-oriented person--I love efficiency and clean spaces--but I appreciate evidence that the library belongs to the people who use it. My dream library has a "Geek the Library" kind of feel, with pictures of real people holding their favorite books/movies/periodicals, with a few words about them. It has staff picks. It has artwork done by patrons. It has a small shelf for "take a book, leave a book." It has a small toy/puppet theater area, so that parents can hand their child something to play with while they themselves do research. It has "website of the week" suggestions from patrons. It has knitting hour, a combination of knitters doing their thing, plus a brief presentation on online knitting resources (or any other subject, where you can combine information and education with hobby practice). It has talks by community members, with coffee and baked goods afterwards.

Last year, I spent a fair amount of time observing hospital architecture, and after a while, I came to find it depressingly institutional, fake clean-lined, and everything efficient and cold and aggressively impersonal. Very efficient, in terms of getting the work of the hospital done. But crazy-making for me, a visitor. There is a reason flowers brighten up a room: they're natural, and messy and organic, and proof that there's something outside of those sterile rooms.

tl; dr: Make your space human by demonstrating that patrons' interests matter, and that humanity trumps librarity.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:51 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

i wonder if the nurses are responding to their feelings about libraries in general and not your library specifically. i think donuts, open houses, and classes would be a great way to show people that your library isn't a harsh, cold, SHHHH! sort of place.
posted by nadawi at 10:55 AM on September 2, 2011

Best answer: There are some facilities where I work that are unwelcoming: The space feels ignored, here is a room with stuff in it, god knows what it's for, where do I find my books, how do I use that computer, argh!! And there's probably someone who works here and he's going to see me and I'll be doing something not the right way and this will be awful.
Then there are some facilities I've been in that are equally terrifying: I walk in the door of what I've heard is the library, and somone immediately says "hello, what book are you looking for? what can i help you with today?" and all their attention is right on me. Like the over-attentive shop people in high-end stores who give me the impression they think I'm about to steal/break something. Or that it's not okay to be in the library unless I have an explicit question that can be answered in 10 minutes or less.

I think there's a middle ground: An employee who immediately says "hi, let me know if I can help you with anything" but who goes back to work and doesn't watch me walk around. A sign that says "Welcome to the library! Please ask brackishline for a tour, or to get help with a research question." Explicitly offering to show them around or give a tour is good, it's encouraging to know that everyone feels shy and unfamiliar and not knowing what's there or where to find anything, and it's such a normal state that there's a standard fix to help that.

A map. I know you said it was only 2 rooms, but presumably there are sections, these are books and those are journals, and this is the local records binders, and all 10 PCs are actually the same or are there some with specific purposes?. Put "how to" footnotes on the map, most serious but some more fun - "if you don't see it here, try the ___ section", "other journals are available through interlibrary loan". "computers are first-come first-serve", "candy bowl refilled daily at 10am", "this carrell is available to everyone even though Dr. Smith leaves his coffee mug here" or "sign up for carrell time at the front desk".
posted by aimedwander at 11:32 AM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Can the library be used for a continuing education seminar? Once a quarter maybe? At the beginning talk about library services and have some goodies on hand. A well-used space is less intimidating but you've got to get people in the door so they can start making it their own.
posted by amanda at 12:07 PM on September 2, 2011

Flowers or some other way to make the place smell nice
A sign on your desk that says 'PLEASE INTERRUPT ME SO I CAN HELP YOU'
A bowl of candy (perhaps individually wrapped candies, not a big cesspool of M&Ms, since this is a hospital.
Is there any way for you to actively reach out to employees with the information they need? Set up a 'request' system so that nurses can reserve information and then come down and pick it up?
posted by bq at 12:15 PM on September 2, 2011

Why would the nurses want to use your library? Nurses are busy people. So you need some motivation to bring them there, right? I liked the idea of candy and the take-a-book-leave-a-book shelf for trashy paperbacks (something to use to zone out during break time). These are your bait to lure people in the door. Then you need signage, meet-and-greets, or whatnot to encourage the nurses to use the meat of the content you have to offer. Maybe it's a poster explaining the different nursing journals available online. Maybe it's posted stories of the way a real nurse used one of the resources of the library to help a real patient. Something like that..

Good luck!
posted by serazin at 12:20 PM on September 2, 2011

Best answer: Our front room (main entrance area) has a now-unused staff desk with signs pointing inside.

My first question is: why aren't you there? If there is a specific reason why you can't be there, is there another staff member who can be? I work in a hospital library, and while we're a pretty casual place, one rule that we have is that there is always someone up front unless they're literally just going down the hall to the bathroom and straight back (and making a quick trip, at that). Otherwise, if both of the LTAs are gone, one of the two librarians in the reading room (I'm one of them; we take turns if we're both here) comes out and hangs out in the front until one of the LTAs comes back.

You don't have to make a big speech when someone comes in; I'll make eye contact if they do, might nod and/or say "Hi", but I'm looking at them to see if they look lost or uncertain (this applies to the reading room as well as the entrance area), and if they wander around for about 30 seconds or so and don't seem to be finding what they're looking for, I'll ask them if I can help them find anything. If not, I'll ask them to let me know if I can help them with anything else and go back to what I was doing. If someone comes through doing a tour for new personnel, I'll offer the new person(s) (a) library pamphlet, but let whomever is doing the tour to do it their way.

With regards to your desk, the key thing is probably a) facing out to the room so that you can see if someone looks lost or frustrated, and b) having little or nothing between you and the room, at least at eye level. I successfully petitioned to have my old desk, which had a counter that was between me and the room, replaced with one that didn't; I've got a big monitor between me and the room, but I kind of have to have it in that spot in order to be able to see most of the room in my peripheral vision, since I have had people walk up to my desk and stand in my blind spot, or even right behind me, and wait for me to notice them, possibly by spider-sense.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:23 PM on September 2, 2011

Seconding doing whatever you can to divide up the space as much as possible to give people privacy. Especially considering it's a workplace library. I often feel forced to make social niceties if trapped in close quarters with a co-worker. Which is something I'd want to avoid if studying or doing research. Having alcoved or cubicled areas would let me feel like the physical wall was also a social wall and I could relax and do what I was there to do. If every time I went to the library I was going to have to sit at long table with co-workers and supervisors, you can bet I'm going to avoid it like the plague and just use the net at home.
posted by troublewithwolves at 12:24 PM on September 2, 2011

Best answer: From your description of the layout, it sounds as if you have an entrance area through which people have to pass, in order to reach the library itself.

If that is the case, this is what I would do.

In the "main entrance area", put either a bookshelf or a notice board in a position where people browsing this bookshelf or noticeboard can see clearly into a good portion of the library. Make the bookshelf or noticeboard colourful and attractive and put a large notice on it of some kind like "Library Events" or "Nursing Books".

Make sure that this bookshelf or noticeboard is clearly visible to people going past outside.

If you have a welcome sign, put it over the library door itself and have it say "Library - Please Come In".

If my assumptions about your layout are wrong, what I am getting at is this. At every point on my "journey" from the corridor into your library, I want to be able to see somewhere that I can go and stand and look like I'm doing something sensible. If I have to walk around a corner straight into a space I've never seen before, I'll have some secret irrational fear that I'll walk right into a seminar of bishops who will all turn and stare at me. If I can go over and read a noticeboard while I surreptitiously check out the library for unexpected bishops, that will make me much more comfortable.
posted by emilyw at 12:29 PM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: @Everyone - You're all immensely helpful and I really appreciate your insights!
posted by brackish.line at 12:52 PM on September 2, 2011

i would be careful about flowers. being in a hospital with the sick and the dying means that they have flowers around everywhere, living, dying, decaying. i've known a lot of hospital workers who detest flowers after a year or so of working at a hospital.
posted by nadawi at 1:54 PM on September 2, 2011

Best answer: Are you clear that your patrons are clear on who the library is open to, what they can do in the library, what they can get help with and how open you are to providing those services? Quite often I read on Mefi "...or call your local library's desk and ask!" and despite having read that regularly for years, I would never do that. Those people have jobs and look, you know, busy. I am 99% convinced they have more important things to do than help me with... whatever it is they could help me with, which I am also unclear on.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:26 PM on September 2, 2011

Can you move your service point to the main entrance area? That way someone is there to greet them and answer any immediate questions. It seems like that might be a "friendlier" layout.

Part of it may be the small space that you've described. Do they feel claustrophobic? Like they can't work on their own without being really close to others?

What about providing a free tea-and-coffee corner? (Or is that too much like a waiting room?)
posted by sugarbomb at 3:22 PM on September 2, 2011

Is it the other people using the library the kind that makes it feel unwelcoming?? There's a study space at my university that is absolutely gorgeous with cooshy chairs and all, but the death glares you get from other people studying there makes me feel completely scared to sneeze, cough, or even breath in there.

Also, since you mentioned it is a library within a hospital, maybe you can invest in a few more squashy oversized arm chairs with a sign that says "If you nap, we won't judge."
posted by astapasta24 at 4:50 PM on September 2, 2011

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