TRY 2012: Digital Signage at the Robarts Library (UTL)

This presentation actually not only talks about digital signage itself, but also the work culture change that happened in the systems department at UTL.


  • Sian Meikle
  • Bilal Khalid
  • Graham Stewart

Good Signs Can Make a Difference

  • brief
  • consistent
  • easily read

Writing the Message

  • simple
    • reduce: punctuation, pictures, words
    • headline: 22 characters
    • body: 10-18 words
    • short URLs
  • brief
    • 5 seconds per slide
    • 8-10 seconds total
    • usually less is more
  • clear
    • call to action e.g. Chat with a librarian
    • photographs can be powerful
    • coherent design

I don’t know that I agree with all of these, but then it was clear that it depends on the size and distance of the sign as well as where it is.

Presenting the Message

  • Chunking
    • group things together
  • Coding
    • add headings
  • position
    • prime spots on a list: first and last get noticed the most

What Makes Digital Signage Different?

  • easy to update
  • can differentiate content by
    • time of day
    • audience
    • viewing time

What Users Say

  1. Help me make better decisions
    • chat with a librarian, workshops
  2. Save me time
    • maps: library, stacks, workstations
    • directories: by floor, service, name, library
  3. Show me something relevant to me
    • news, community content
  4. Tell me something new and interesting
    • exhibitis, events, news
  5. Give me ideas
    • collection highlights

This is not what their actual users were saying. These ideas were based on a talk done by someone outside of the library and the list here is how those ideas might be applied in a library setting.

Touchscreen Kiosks

  • PHP – CodeIgniter
  • jQuery
  • MySQL
  • Closed Environment – not open to the Internet
  • Javascript Keyboard


  • Most Frequent Pageviews
    • since May 2011
    • Libraries & Hours
    • Robarts Directory
    • Workstations
  • User Feedback
    • Let me find a book
    • Let me access this information from my phone

What’s Next

  • catalogue search
    • entire catalogue available
  • StackMap
    • map of physical item location, with directions
  • Responsible Design
    • designed to be used on any device

This is interesting, because we’re working on something similar at our library and we were considering how responsive to make the site. Obviously, we need to seriously consider designing from desktop down to mobile.

Overhead Signage

  • 4 vertical screens
  • PHP + AJAX
  • Media Commons
  • JavaScript video player
  • Fishers Rare Book
  • screensaver


  • auto refresh
  • detection of new content
  • remote control
  • ability to have different slideshows
  • control to switch between slideshows
  • control through phone

What’s Next

  • Scala software across all overhead screens
    • content regions e.g. time at bottom of screen
    • RSS Feeds to Drupal based on another content type
    • Scheduling e.g. times of day

Building Directories

  • one PHP + JavaScript page per vertical pylon (two vertical screens)
  • alternating event feed display (from Drupal, via AJAX)

Development – Devops Movement

  • focus on increase collaboration and cooperation
  • agile methodology applied to system administration
  • agile development and teams (self organizing, cross functional, quick daily meetings, open environments, face to face meetings, encourage input)

On System Administration

  • timeframes all shrink
  • web presence critical
  • software is developed much faster and changes are more frequent
  • massive growth in automation tools
  • growth in OSS: sharing and collaboration

Devops Goals

  1. Eliminate stereotypes
    • developers are careless, arrogant while sysadmins always say no and work all night
  2. Increase communicatin between developers, operations, and management
  3. Continuous systems improvement
  4. Break down barriers and silos
  5. Develop methods to encourage all team members to see the organization’s goals


  • all staff use all their skills
    • diversity
    • use knowledge outside defined roles
    • roles expand
    • cross pollination
    • creativity
    • “many minds”
  • enhanced mutual respect and communication
    • greater trust
    • shared responsibility
    • everyone feels a sense of ownership over the end product
    • greater commitment to the product
    • everyone focused on the organization’s end goal
  • happier, move productive staff

Implementing DevOps With Digital Signange

  • operations and development involved jointly from the start
  • weekly full meetings and as necessary (often daily) with quick interrupts/one-on-ones for specific issues
  • fast code releases: several times/week
  • “many minds”
  • two screen display: one browser? 2 PCs?
  • disabling right click
  • URL shortening
  • Planning and execution
    • browser choice
    • OS choice
    • development options
    • design decisions
  • New and experimental project
    • innovative methods required

I thought it was interesting that they spoke a lot about the more technical aspect as well as development methodology. I think it’s a good lesson for a lot of library IT departments that agile development with integrated back and front end staff can be very beneficial, particularly because it makes more development faster and more flexible.

One of the things that came up during the code4lib conference too is that developers should have a small amount of time to work on whatever seems interesting to develop new tools or services.

Author: Cynthia

Technologist, Librarian, Metadata and Technical Services expert, Educator, Mentor, Web Developer, UXer, Accessibility Advocate, Documentarian

One thought on “TRY 2012: Digital Signage at the Robarts Library (UTL)”

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