URI professor Lauren Mandel works to affect change in libraries nationwide

by Hannah Will

Have you ever walked into a library and felt completely overwhelmed? Lauren H. Mandel, assistant professor in URI’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, understands that students can easily be overwhelmed and has conducted research on how to help students navigate a library. This spring semester, Mandel presented “Finding the Way to a Library Wayfinding App” as part of the Harrington Forum Lecture Series.

What is “wayfinding” anyway? Wayfinding refers to the ability to orient and navigate in space.

Mandel specifically focuses on indoor built environments in libraries, and how we can learn to navigate these spaces effectively. During her presentation, she shared a few main wayfinding issues within libraries, but she noted that the most prevalent problem is signage. Whether the signage is overwhelming, damaged, or just plain unhelpful, signage can inhibit our ability to find what we need in a library.

Mandel found that libraries typically contain informational, regulatory and directional signs. Directional signs are the most helpful within an academic library, however, these signs only make up 3.9 percent of signage in libraries. Informational signs, the least helpful type of signs, make up over 75 percent of signage within libraries.

Mandel’s solution to this problem is a library wayfinding app that allows library employees to go around a library and take pictures of signs, which are converted into words. Researchers can use this data to determine the best signs for a given library.

Now, Mandel is seeking funding to develop the app. Mandel believes that this app could affect meaningful change in libraries, and even make libraries safer in the long run.