Please read this

We’re used to being told what to do by signage when we’re on the road, in public buildings, or walking round town. Most of it is probably intended to be informative or is there for our comfort and safety. Every now and again, though, I’m brought up short by a plethora of signs that are too numerous to read and absorb while driving or, as happened this week, while taking a break from research at a county record office.

Facilities for researchers vary considerably. The National Archives at Kew has its own café, free wireless access, power points galore and a shop. Nearer to home facilities are predictably more modest and, for the most part, perfectly adequate. Some have a coffee room with notice boards, information leaflets and even a comments book. Others simply put a few chairs and a vending machine in the entrance lobby with little to entertain you.

Sitting in one lobby this week I was struck by the number and range of notices stuck on every wall. They were polite but firm. Please keep this door closed. Please hand in your locker key before leaving. Please push button to exit. Please note change of opening hours. Please note increase in vending machine prices. Umbrellas only please, the only variation in style, had perhaps only that day been fixed above a receptacle in which someone had placed a walking stick. Back inside the search room Please give consideration to others by closing these drawers quietly had evidently been effective in reforming the behaviour of former drawer slammers. The line between useful signage and a barrage of unnecessary instructions is a fine one and surely we can be treated like the responsible adults we are. Mind you, I could suggest a couple of signs myself. Please stay at home if you have a heavy cold would have been useful this week, together with Please don’t sniff. However on balance, next time I come across a comments book I think I’ll just suggest they Please reduce the number of signs.

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