Merchandising: Attractiveness as a form of access

October 6, 2006 at 1:12 pm 3 comments

At the Mount Laurel Library, we’ve been working in a “merchandised environment” for over 2 years now.

As the Trading Spaces: Reinventing the Library Environment project demonstration site we had the opportunity to get retail fixtures such as book gondolas, CD browsers and slat wall. We’ve also had training on how to keep our library collections both accessible and attractive to customers.

It’s worked! Our circulation leapt by 39% the first year and it’s been rising ever since.

Well, learning how to merchandise is one thing.

Our staff training uses handouts, slide shows, tip sheets plus hands-on experience to show how to better merchandise our collection.

Our merchandising goal for all staff is to spend on average 5 minutes each hour keeping the displays looking full (that’s about 30+ minutes a day for our full-time staff).

Keeping it all looking good, all the time, is another matter!

Have you ever been in a store that looks “picked over”? Well, it’s the same in a library if you don’t keep up on merchandising the collection.

Success means more circulation and that means we’re constantly filling in gondolas, flipping books cover out, and adding onto slat wall displays. In practice though, it’s hard to keep everyone focused on why it’s important and incorporate it into our daily routine.

To keep our eyes looking at the library from a customer point-of-view, we’ve just started is a twice weekly Walk-About. It’s a way for staff, individually or in a small groupers, to walk through the library and note:

  • what looks good (to celebrate success)
  • what area needs immediate attention (today, let’s do it now–together)
  • what area needs work next

All of our staff share this task through a weekly rotation among our departments. We’ve also created Walk-About sheets to help staff keep track and make it easier to report back at our morning briefings (a quick heads-up meeting before the library opens).

One of the side benefits (besides improving the look of the library displays) is that it encourages everyone to get out and really see the entire library — even those areas they don’t usually work in.

The result — a better looking library and and better informed staff.


Entry filed under: Customer Experience, Library as Place, Marketing, Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

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  • 1. Ellen O'Brien  |  October 14, 2006 at 6:38 am

    I wonder about this. One thing I’ve found with my staff is that they seem to more interested in keeping our upfront areas full than in using our most prominent displays to show off what’s new or what’s interesting. They do a much better job with our second floor (non-fiction and reference) than with our first floor fiction area which tends to have what’s new and a hodge podge of interesting but unrelated items. How important is content or theme rather than keeping things in the public eye?

  • 2. Peter Bromberg  |  October 14, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    Hi Ellen,

    I think you have a good point. The simple act of keeping items merchandised and in the public eye probably accomplishes quite a bit.

    I was actually just thinking about this after reading an article in the
    NY Times
    about why we eat. The article focuses on research by Professor Brian Wansink’s. It turns out (unsurprisingly) that we tend to eat more when there’s food right in front of us. I think there’s a strong parallel here to the power of merchandising. If we see a nice display of books when we walk into the library we’re more likely to “consume” what we see.

    I’d also say though that once we’ve taken that first step of displaying our materials, we can further improve our customers’ experience, and promote increased circulation, but doing progressively more attractive and dynamic displays. I guess each library needs to decide on their own point of diminishing returns when putting time and energy into merchandising. I remember a quote that went something like, “A good poem is never finished, only abandoned.” I suppose the same could be said for a good display 😉

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