Don’t Do Signage Like This: 5 Negative Library Signs

Megan Hartline —  December 11, 2014 — 7 Comments

You’ve seen it before: the imperative sign dictating “Do Not Reshelve Books.”

You’ve probably spotted it in your own library. Perhaps you’ve even made a sign of your own, frustrated by books put back incorrectly, or because you need to collect browsing statistics.

Have you ever seen a sign that explains what you should do with your browsed books?

Erin Bradford, a librarian from the State Library of North Carolina explains the usual “Do Not Reshelve” sign from the perspective of an expert user: “I thought, ‘What’s the harm? I know where they go and I know I’m putting them in the right spot, and I’m trying to help decrease their work by shelving them.'”

Library visitors don’t understand the reason for the negative command, so they don’t comply with it.

Using positive language helps encourage the library user behavior we do want to see. Instead of saying, “Don’t reshelve books”, encourage the alternative: and explain why: “Leave books on cart for counting and shelving.”

Negative language results in library signs that users ignore, or worse, gather a bad impression of the library. Peter Alsberg, Director of the Örebro County Library, Sweden, curated a group of signs he calls passive-aggressive library unmarketing.

Check out the negative library language signs below for examples of what not to do. Afterward, check out The Desk Set on bad library signage, and consider conducting a signage audit in your library.

Five Negative Library Signs

5: Do Not Worry About This Here Video Camera

Please Do Not Be Offended

Creative Commons License by trombonekenny on flickr.

The “No offense, but I’m about to say something offensive” of library signs.

 4: Do Not Write on Other People

Sign saying: "Please do not stand, sit, climb, or sharpie on sleeping students."

via Funny Signs

This university library has seen some dark days.

3: Do Not Move This. EVER.

A box of microfiche with a sign: "SMc's sorted files. PLEASE don't move! 8/98"

Creative Commons License by Sarah Altendorf

A library employee found these boxes 13 years later. How long will they remain?

2: Do Not Transform the Library into Concept Art

Sign saying, "Do not yell Roll Tide in the library."

via twitter user katiersmith17

Do not yell “Roll Tide,” but other phrases are OK.

Happily, this sign was actually conceptual art about negative signs. Whew.

1: Do Not Eat Our Materials

Sign saying: "DO NOT chew on the headphone cords"

Original source unknown

We can only hope this sign was created solely for one individual problem user.

Now that you’ve seen these negative library signs, please do not create a sign starting with “Please Do Not” ever again.

Edited 12/29/14 to include Erin Bradford, author of the SLNC post. 

Megan Hartline


Megan Hartline (@wrybrarian on Twitter) is librarian at the University of Michigan, where she manages physical collections and provides professional development. She holds a graduate certificate in Nonprofit Leadership, and is passionate about building community by connecting people with resources.

7 responses to Don’t Do Signage Like This: 5 Negative Library Signs


    I don’t know. I’m kind of in favor of “please do not take library materials into the restroom.”


      Shudder-inducing! So true.

      I’m a fan of phrasing it positively to encourage an alternative action, like “Leave library materials on this cart before entering restroom.”


    Hi! I’m the Librarian at the State Library of NC who wrote that blog post. I have worked in libraries since I was a teenager in the 1990s and then in college in 1998 up through now. I got my MLS in 2008 and it wasn’t until I got my current positions as the Genealogy Reference Librarian that I understood the whole “do not reshelve books” signage. I agree with using positive signage. If I do see patrons reshelve books, I will explain the reason for putting them on carts (our library also has signage all over “Help us know what is used! Place viewed books on cart.” or just “Place viewed books on cart.”


      Erin, your post is so on point! I love how you share perspective from both sides of the desk.

      Our post is edited to give you proper credit.


    I worked at the library with the bottom sign. And my staff now wonders why I am nuts about signage!!!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. I Saw the Sign | Hafuboti - May 12, 2015

    […] in December, I read this fantastic post from Library Lost & Found. I had recently put up “do not reshelve” signs throughout […]

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