Library Displays: Merchandising Tips

Last week I went to a Library Journal Lead the Change Workshop. The main speaker was David Vinjamuri, a guy from outside the library world. He’s a marketer who teaches branding at NYU, but started writing about libraries and the book world for Forbes and is now speaking at continuing education workshops for librarians.

The different sessions covered a lot of topics—too many for just one blog post. So I’m going to focus on just the visual merchandizing guidelines, and specifically a couple tips I was able to implement right away.

Lesson #1: Incorporate ebooks into displays

library display with ebook flyers
This isn’t something we’ve been doing at my library. I’ve seen stickers and shelf talkers used in libraries to promote ebook collections, but we haven’t done any of that. Part of the problem is the evolving ebook collection. It would be a time-consuming task to do something like that with all of our ebooks. Plus, what about the ebooks that don’t have an analog in the physical collection?

An easy way to promote specific titles available as ebooks as well as general awareness of their ability is to include some flyers or signs in a regular, physical display.

I’ve also seen flyers like these with QR codes. I have never actually seen someone use a QR code in a a library or otherwise. Bottom line: I hate QR codes. (This could be because I did an internship in a school library where the librarian was QR code crazy (also just regular crazy)). So I didn’t include them.

We have Overdrive and Bibliocommons, so our ebook collection and downloading is integrated into the catalog, which has made the process of onboarding new ebook users easier. (Statistics show that a lot of people still visit our separate Overdrive site, though). But I still think it’s a good idea to make it more obvious that specific titles are available as ebooks. This is makes total sense for this display I had planned for the beginning of May, featuring the Teens’ Top Ten nominees. Since my teen book club is a nominating group, I want to make sure as many of them as possible have to opportunity to read all the titles.

The flyers just says “this title also available as an ebook” with an image of the cover, with the instructions to search the title in the Bibliocommons and download, find instructions at an easy custom URL, or to ask staff for assistance. Simple and easy.

I do want to get some foam core to prop up the signs, as the cardstock isn’t quite heavy enough, but other than that, I’m going to see how these do or if we get a lot of customer inquiries about the ebook titles.

Lesson #2: Create visual interest by breaking up long rows of books

We’ve always tried to leave room at the end of a shelf to face out a book. In the adult fiction stacks, we actually have flat front shelves in some places just for that purpose. In teen, we’ve just included them at the end of the row.

One of the ideas I took away from the Lead the Change workshop was to break up the long rows of books by setting books in a series or by the same author on their sides to create visual interest and draw attention to them. Teen Fiction is the perfect place to do this, since there are so many trilogies. I wasn’t sure how I’d like it, but I think it ended up looking good, at least when the shelves were very neat. Laying books on their sides makes the spine more readable, and it catches the eye.

I do have some reservations about how workable this will be in the long term. It’s going to require more maintenance on the part of staff. Currently, a lot of our shelving is done by volunteers, and this won’t be something I expect them to do. In some places we’ve moved the series to the end of the row, slightly out of shelf order, but hopefully still close enough that people will still find them. It’s an experiment.

Lesson #3: Weed, weed, weed

shelving with visual interest

This is more one of my own tips than something discussed at the workshop, but I think it’s worth mentioning. We’ve done a staff reorganization, and instead of having a circulation department, we have materials handling staff that work with our sorter and check-in new books, and an accounts staff, who answer account questions, open new accounts, and troubleshoot issues with checking out books if patrons have problems using the self-check machines. Books are shelves by all staff—the assistants and librarians who work in readers’ services, information services, teen, and children, and when things get busy, other staff members pitch in. We also have teen and adult volunteers that help with shelving.

With our new sorter, lots of damaged books make their way onto carts, when staff hand checking items would have put them on a repair/weed card to be sent down to technical services or collection development before we had the sorter. With the large number of staff shelving books, and especially because of volunteer help, it’s become clear over the last few months that lots of books in bad condition are getting shelved.

We used to do condition and low circ weeding annually, but it’s become clear that condition weeding needs to be done on an ongoing basis—and that collection development librarians, who ultimately make the call on whether an item should be replaced because it’s beat up, or weeded because it’s gross, need to play a bigger role.

The way I’ve decided to approach this is to set aside a few hours a week to go up from the collection development office and get in the stacks and check items for condition. This means I’ll know the collection better, the books will look better, and I get the stuff that isn’t appealing out of there so people can more easily find the stuff that interests them, and get new copies of items that are in bad shape. I plan to focus on weeding a few shelves in the collections I’m responsible for ordering each week to get the gross books and have a leaner, better performing collection that will have higher turnover and be easier to browse.

One of the main points of Vinjamuri’s talk was that there are fewer and fewer places to browse for books in a physical space, and online discovery is not quite the same of being able to wander the stacks and pick up a book. Facilitating the experience of exploring the library on the look for a new book by great merchandising can make libraries the go-to place for discovering new books.

Lesson #4: Use Shelf Talkers Boost Circulation

This is also another tactic we’ve been using for some time in the Teen Zone, but I thought it was worth mentioning since we’ve recently made some slight changes and it’s a technique borrowed from the retail world.

I’ve shared our shelf talkers before in a post on passive readers’ advisory. We used to type up staff recommendations and print them out. Now that we’re in a new building and the staff desk is in the hang out space rather than the stacks and we’re perpetually busy, it’s easier to write out a quick suggestion by hand on cardstock shelf talkers that are already cut up and ready to go rather than type one out and print it in order to put in on display. Plus, i think the handwritten ones are somehow more eye-catching and seem more personal.

In addition to recommending specific books, I’ve also made ones to display with popular authors that direct readers to other authors they might enjoy.

These really work. Like Steve Jobs said, “people don’t know what they want until I tell them.” Direct readers to specific titles with a short couple of sentences about why they might like it, and they’ll move.

Good merchandising can boost circulation, help readers find books, and make the space more attractive for browsing, and potentially draw in new users who typically only use the library for meetings or computer access.


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3 thoughts on “Library Displays: Merchandising Tips

  1. I wish my teen space had more room for face outs–it was one of my favorite things in the bookstore where I worked. Maybe I’ll go through and try it with some of our multiple copies. I like the idea of shelf takers too. We have a lot of shelf space (all very much needed) but the teen room has more windows than walls so very little display space. Our “official” staff picks display is adjacent to but not in the teen room and sadly does not get much traffic. Thanks for the ideas.

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