3. Why do it?
If the reasons listed above aren’t enough, here are some more:
- Public libraries have limited resources: limited time, limited money. You need to be sure that you are not wasting any of those limited resources by giving out messages that people can’t access, or can’t understand, or ignore. Simplicity and clarity are the keys to being effective.
- Public libraries want to reach as much of the population as possible. You need to communicate with as many people as possible, as attractively as possible, as efficiently as possible. How many people just give up on your information, no matter what format it is in? About 6-8% of the people in your area have dyslexia. Your community also includes people whose first language is not English, people with intellectual impairments and many others whose information needs are often ignored. Simplicity and clarity are the keys to being inclusive.
- Public libraries want to be understood. You need to get your messages out there to the people who matter, including to people who are unaware of your services, or who don’t appreciate their relevance. Some of your audience may not read easily, or may not read at all. Some may read fluently, but not in English, or may be new to Roman script. Simplicity and clarity are the keys to being understood.
- Public libraries want to be used. You need to prove your relevance. You need to show that you understand your users, their lives, their needs and interests. You need to show how you can add value to your users’ lives, and how easy it is to use your services. Simplicity and clarity are the keys to proving your worth.
- Public libraries are trusted and valued leaders in their communities. You can’t afford to make mistakes that can downgrade your reputation. Simplicity and clarity are the keys to getting it right.
- Of course, there are circumstances in which complex and literary language, or elaborate design, are relevant or desirable. Public information is not one of those circumstances. Every day organisations lose money, customers and goodwill because they make mistakes in communication. Machinery gets broken because people don’t understand the instructions, services are ignored because people give up or get the wrong impression. Simplicity and clarity are the keys to staying relevant.
Then there’s the law. The Disability Act, 2005 and the Equal Status Acts, 2000-2008 require all public services, including public libraries, to provide inclusive access to the information they produce. You can find out more about the Disability Act from the NDA website and about the Equal Status Acts from the Equality Authority’s website. Clear communication is not about compliance, though. It’s about making sure that you get your messages across in the best possible way, so that the greatest number of people can understand and act on the information you give them. Simplicity and clarity are the keys to achieving your aims.
Sometimes people worry that simplicity and clarity are dull or patronising. They worry that perhaps the public will feel that libraries are talking down to them.
However, it’s unlikely that anyone will complain because information you supplied was too easy to understand and they would have preferred it in a more complex form. If someone has to read library information more than once in order to understand it, you have already lost them.
Outdoors, people expect to encounter challenges if they are climbing a mountain, but not if they are going down a local street. Similarly, a booklet about services or a community event should not be a rival for Finnegans Wake. Simplicity and clarity are the keys to a positive information experience.
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