Cringe-worthy, all-caps, taped-up, clip-art adorned, tattered and passive aggressive – the librarian species L-U-V-loves posting signs. I love them for all the wrong reasons and I hate them (let’s just say it’s complicated) and I’m not alone. Take a peek at this delightfully curated collection of passive-aggressive library signs over at pintrest. (

So I’m here today with a challenge – Stop putting up signs. Just stop.

Just as it’s foolhardy to try devising a rule for every situation, it is just as implausible to post a sign dealing with every infraction or possible exception (in spectacular detail).

Signs about rules just don’t work. Why? First, people don’t read signs. And second, people don’t read signs. The type of impression signs can make on our teen users is negative, unwelcoming and (face it) mean – whether intentional or not. Think of your own reaction to posted rules and how signs at the DMV create an atmosphere. This is not the ambience we should strive for…

What we should strive for is the creation of connections. While working with teens, every interaction is an opportunity to foster a relationship with the library – this includes occasions when we can help teens understand and navigate library rules. This is the good stuff – invaluable. We need to be “hand-crafty” here – and take time to talk to teen patrons about behavioral expectations even in the midst of an infraction, what’s OK – and what’s not OK in the library setting – and most importantly — why. A sign can’t do that — only you can.

Here are some takeaways:

  • Signs do not substitute for staff taking initiative to mitigate problems as they arise with teen users (even if this is repetitive for staff).
  • Pointing to a sign is not a warning – pointing does not take the place of interacting with teen users — in any service situation.
  • The presence of a sign cannot be construed as imparting to teen patrons an understanding of “The Rules”
  • People (teens included) don’t generally read signs (I may have mentioned this.)

So, what do you think?
What visual cues can be used to help teens feel welcome in the library?

Can and should “rules” be communicated to teens via the library’s physical space? And if so, how?

And finally, an invitation to something FREE
For more about making teens feel welcome in the library – I’d like to extend an invitation to join me for the next FREE American Libraries Live broadcast: The Kid & Teen Friendly Library. I’ll moderate the interactive discussion on Thursday, July 10th at 2pm Eastern. The panel includes Amy J. Alessio, Teen Librarian at the Schaumburg Township District Library in (IL) and Lana Adlawan, Supervising Librarian for Teen Services, Oakland (CA) Public Library.

This discussion needs your voice.

You can register for this FREE 60-minute event at

About Jennifer Velasquez

Jennifer Velasquez is a Lecturer at the San Jose State University School of Information (CA) and Teen Services Coordinator at San Antonio Public Library (TX) She is a Library Journal Mover & Shaker (2011) and recipient of the New York Times Librarian Award (2005). Her book, Real-World Teen Services, is available from ALA Editions.

One Thought on “Stop putting up signs. Just stop.

  1. Mickie on July 8, 2014 at 4:22 pm said:


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