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Library pictograms from Sweden

The other day I stopped by my favorite little bookstore, Spoonbill & Sugartown, and found a great book called New Graphical Symbols for Many More. New Graphical Symbols for Many More is “a (Swedish) national development and standardization project aimed at making public symbols more uniform and more serviceable in keeping with the concept of Design for All.” What really got me excited- one of the symbols that all 124 competitors had to create for the contest was a symbol for a public library. I’ve posted scans of all of them below for preview and for educational purposes only.

In my last post I promoted the creation of ‘pictotags,’ user-assigned icons that can help describe characteristics of a book or media object. In the case of that post, the images described the physical location of an object, but I anticipate them being more descriptive in the future. Visual literacy is embedded in cultural histories and mores, so naturally the winning pictograms presented to the Swedes by the competitors will have to make sense to people who live in and visit public places in Sweden. In the age of the inernet and simplified global communication via graphic user interfaces, it becomes more and more challenging to create standards that will translate internationally. How does the designer account for the visual vocabulary of every tourist that might come through Stockholm, and should the designer in the age of global communication be accountable to every possible user?

Creating visual standards is analogous to creating a controlled vocabulary. Can one create a global, visual, controlled vocabulary? It has been attempted before; it was part of Otto Neurath’sisotype‘ vision at the Bauhaus. Arguable, progenitors of the field of infographics like Ladislav Sutnar were striving for the same kind of thing. Will librarians work with graphic designers to make these decisions? How will visual literacies determine the structure of information and information retrieval in the coming century?

For me, this provoked a lot of thought about library identity in the eyes of our users. Enjoy these icons. I’ll be away for the Thanksgiving holiday. More posts after the holiday.

Winning Library pictogram:

The rest of the entries:







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There are 5 Comments to "Library pictograms from Sweden"

  • […] 23 11 2008 I have excerpted here something interesting from Nate Hill on the WPLA blog [http://plablog.org/2008/11/library-pictograms-from-sweden.html] about pictograms for libraries from Sweden where there is a “…national development […]

  • […] this say ‘library’ to you? Nate Hill at the PLA Blog has a post about the winning symbol for ‘library’ in Sweden, along with images of all the also […]

  • […] PLA Blog » Blog Archive » Library pictograms from Sweden (tags: library libraries design pictogram bilder attblogga) […]

  • Dinah Sanders says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but only #42 and #106 seem to be compatible with the library’s growing role as a provider/mediator for non-book materials & information/entertainment sources.

    I am not sure it’s in our best interests to continue to chain our public identity completely to books in their traditional form.

  • nate says:

    @ Dinah Sanders:

    I hear you. I find this frustrating as well. But-

    I didn’t copy everything in the book, I actually only copied the library pictograms. One of the other things the other pictograms the designers had to do for the competition was an entry for an internet cafe. As a public librarian it is definitely funny looking at all of those images, since they represent a LOT of what we offer at our libraries as well, with one exception: coffee. Sure some libraries offer coffee, but its not like its part of our mission or something. Or should it be?

    Even though I’m all about public libraries in the USA really embracing and promoting community activites as diverse as video games and rock concerts, I’m not sure that a good design for a library pictogram should be based on the image we WANT libraries to have, rather than the image the public mind has already formed over years and years of receiving our services.

    So, your point:
    “I am not sure it’s in our best interests to continue to chain our public identity completely to books in their traditional form.”
    I agree with it- but its a longer, larger marketing and PR effort that involves some kind of training of peoples perceptions. You can certainly use simple imagery like a pictogram to train people to think differently about libraries- but I’m not sure that creating a national standard is the right time.

    Buy this book- it really is excellent. I’m not sure I can reproduce more of it on the blog without violating some kind of copyright issue.