UX & Information Systems

Wandering in the Stacks

Wandering in the Stacks

For a full description, see the UX repository post

We conducted two wayfinding tests (Spring 2016, Spring 2017), with 6 and 7 first-year students attempting to find three items in Frost Library, using talk-aloud protocol to voice their thought processes and reactions. The second test included a pair of video-recording glasses, to help in observing which wayfinding tools students used in their process.

What we wanted to know/do

How do first-year students find their way around the Frost Library building? Where do they encounter challenges? What tools do they use when trying to find specific items? What is helping, and what is missing?

How we did it

Talk-aloud protocol


Students struggled with call number “meanings” and function — how to use call numbers, what they “meant,” and how they progressed on the shelf. Even if they had LC at their high school libraries, smaller library collections meant that call numbers were a secondary resource to just at-a-glance navigation (identifying sections, scanning titles).

Students had difficulty with determining the overall “flow” of call numbers, particularly when they had a “winding” path — floor maps and “you are here” stack signs helped to ease some of this confusion.

Students demonstrated a range of willingness to ask for help and patience with learning new systems, though all wanted to feel competent at finding items.

Virtual floor maps were difficult to find on the website — there is no explicit link from a catalog record (with a call number) to a particular floor map.


The struggle that many students had with call numbers indicates a need for more education. We currently have signs posted at stairwells that correlate call numbers to floor levels, but no materials that explain what a call number is, how it “works,” etc.

Students moved quickly and often navigated “at a glance” — signs with high complexity (& maps) failed to support this activity.  The “you are here” stack signs helped students to orient on the go; revising and developing additional signs should be guided by a low complexity, “need to know” principle.

Action Taken

We developed a self-guided Library orientation for Fall 2017 that included a station on call numbers (what they are, how to use them). In redesigning our floor directory webpage, we’re also working on a page to explain call numbers better.

Signs for the Reference section and the DVD collection (two areas with no visual cues) have been developed using principles of simplicity and accessibility.


Related links

Luca, Edward, and Bhuva Narayan. “Signage by Design: A Design-Thinking Approach to Library User Experience.” Weave: Journal of Library User Experience 6 (2016): Web

Librarian Design Share — signs, templates, and projects created by librarians

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