Friday, January 26, 2007

What libraries can learn from bookstores: Applying bookstore design to public libraries

by Chris Rippel, Central Kansas Library System, Great Bend, Kansas

Bookstore owners and managers have spent much time and money experimenting how to entice customers into their stores and help them select and buy books. This article explores how librarians might adapt the techniques bookstores use to communicate to customers.

Some librarians will ask whether bookstore staff merely push the latest bestseller or do they try to match readers to books? Though Barnes and Noble staff are not trained to match readers and books, B & N staff are encouraged to take books home and read them. The front of Barnes and Noble stores have shelves for "staff recommendations." In the independent Watermark bookstore in Wichita, Kansas, staff recommendations are grouped by staff name because customers learn which staff recommends the books they prefer. Even if library staff know more about books than bookstore staff, few libraries have staff recommended shelves. In most libraries, patrons must ask library staff what books the latter recommends.

This article is not suggesting that librarians should alter their focus on building collections, matching readers to books, promoting education, preserving culture and local history, access to information, etc. This article invites librarians to study and apply techniques bookstores use to communicate with customers so that librarians can communicate better with their patrons.

This article summarizes numerous articles about browsing and displays in libraries, store design, creating atmosphere in stores. Micheal Hadden, Director of the Schaumburg (Illinois) Township District Library, generously provided excellent pictures of the Hanover Park Branch Library. This library was designed in the bookstore style.

Jane Fink, head of the Creative Services and Promotion Department of the Daviess County Public Library in Owensboro, Kentucky, emailed me excellent pictures and descriptions of their creative displays. Library Director Deborah Mesplay says her library "works very hard to promote community events ... via the library displays. We now have numerous organizations contacting us and asking if we will put up a display on a particular subject or issue that relates to an organizational activity." Finally, I received valuable insights into the workings of Barnes and Noble bookstores through an interview with Linda Flanders, an ex-supervisor of the children's section of a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Wichita, Kansas. Linda has also served on a library board and now works for the Central Kansas Library System in Great Bend, Kansas.

The interview with Linda began talking about how Barnes and Noble staff do their jobs.

Everyone is crosstrained to do everything. My source, supervisor of the children's section, was taught how to make lattes. The cafe staff can direct customers to the mystery section or any other place in the store. Lists of the bestsellers are posted in strategic places (e.g., near thecash registers). Everyone is expected to be able to rattle off the top ten or so bestsellers and where they are in the store. Staff is constantly fed sheets warning when titles will be released or are coming to the store. Everyone takes daily turns at the checkout counter.

Crosstraining would benefit libraries. Training circulation and reference staff in the mysteries of interlibrary loan would increase their ability to answer questions and advise patrons about the interlibrary loan process. Crosstraining catalogers and reference staff could produce better cataloging for use by reference staff and improve reference staff's understanding of the access provided by cataloging.

Barnes & Noble floor staff spend most of their days in an assigned area shelving new books and helping customers. When customers enter their section, staff makes contact with the customer to show help is near. In many libraries, by contrast, staff are not trained to great people walking in the front door or invite patrons to ask questions. Many library staff appear unaware that patrons need to be invited to ask questions.

Differences between bookstores and libraries

During the interview, I eventually asked for a list of differences between bookstores and libraries. Linda began talking about atmospheric differences between bookstores and libraries. According to Raynetmarketing Business and Marketing Glossary at, retail atmospherics is "designing buying environments to produce specific customer emotional reactions that enhance purchase probability. It includes ... layout, colour, smells, music, lighting, materials etc."

  • Smell. Linda says customers entering Barnes and Noble stores smell coffee and pastries in the cafe and patrons entering libraries don't. Joseph Weishar in Design for Effective Selling Space (p. 43) identifies the associations of different odors.
    • Cinnamon, coffee, apples - homecooking, warm, family, cozy (By the way, men may be especially susceptible to the smell of cinnamon buns.)
    • Orange - healthy and bright
    • Lemon - fresh, clean
    • Wood - general country hardware store
    • Mildew - damp, basement

Too many libraries smell of must and mildew. Such smells are unpleasant for everyone and unhealthy for many. Library staff should smell donations and not add stinky books to their collections.They should track down and eliminate the causes of musty and mildew smells.

Here are tips for eliminating musty smells.

Consumers perceive higher quality goods in scented stores. Burning scented candles is expensive and dangerous in a library. Retail consultant Linda Cahan advises opening all windows and doors and use fans to blow in clean air when possible. This makes everyone, staff and customers, feel better. Immediately before the store opens burn a mixture of cedar chips and sage in a small frying pan. When the mixture has burned, blow out the flames. Carry the smoking frying pan all over the store, backrooms and even the basement. This fills the store with a wonderful scent.

- Source: "Stores with soul" by Linda Cahan in Gifts and Decorative Accessories, Vol. 103, June 2002, p. 20+

  • Music. When we discussed music, my interviewee explained differences in the target markets for Barnes and Noble vs. Borders. B&N's target market is baby boomers. Border's target market, she claimed, is generation-Xers. This difference in target explained three differences between the chains. Barnes and Noble has a stricter dress code than Borders, B&N stores are more spread out than Borders. B&N plays classical music provided by headquarters in New York. Borders plays more jazzy music.

Experimenters discovered that music makes a big difference in customer behavior. Slow music increases supermarket sales 38% and liquor sales in restaurants. Classical and pop music increases sales better than easy listening and silence.

- Source: "The effect of music on atmosphere and purchase intentions in a cafeteria" by Adrian C. North, et. al. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 28, pp 2254-2273.

Music also affects what is bought. During a two week experiment in a restaurant, on the days when French music was played French wine outsold German wine. On the days German music was played German wine outsold French wine. Only 10% of customers said the music affected their choice.

- Source: "The Influence of in-store music on wine selections" by Adrian C. North, et. al. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 84, 1999, pp. 271-276.

Music is controversial in libraries because many library lovers prefer quiet. Nevertheless, music may be appropriate in some libraries of in some areas of the library. During non-peak times at the South Branch Library of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library a boom-box on the circulation desk plays Latino music. Music can also enliven the waiting period before programs start. My Barnes and Noble interviewee is a preacher's wife. She says music is played before the church service to encourage people to visit rather than sit silently waiting for the service to begin.

  • Lighting. Barnes and Noble stores are brighter than most libraries. Experts claim high levels of light suggest lower prices. Discount stores have equally bright lighting over the entire store. Lower levels of light suggest good quality and even exclusivity. Luxury stores have low general lighting so spotlights can illuminate displays.

Before adding florescent lights to brighten the entire library equally, consider variation in brightness. Circulation, reference, and stacks need bright, even lighting. Lower, general lighting, however, is useful for highlighting certain areas. Here are two examples.

    • I believe libraries should be second homes for the community's readers. Consider a creating homey reading areas in a generally lower lit area with good reading lamps on side tables lighting comfortable chairs. Incandescent bulbs in reading lamps provide a warm glow inviting readers to sit down and read.
    • Lower general light allows easy illumination of books displays. Illuminated displays receive twice the attention of non-illuminated displays. Illuminating displays is discussed below.

Two examples of book displays near the circulation desk in the

Daviess County Public Library in Owensboro, Kentucky.

My thanks to Jane Fink for the photographs and information about the displays in this library.

Placing the circulation desk to the right of the front door makes returning books convenient. If the display space near the front door is limited, a slatwall pillar like the one shown on the right has a smaller footprint than a table and provides an attractive and effective way to display numerous books.

The area around Barnes and Noble cash registers contains numerous displays to attract the impulsive buyer. Daviess County Public Library uses book stands on the circulation desk and all other desks to promote books on hot topics "In the News."

  • Power aisles. are major aisles leading customers to all parts of the store. Power aisles also contain major displays of merchandise. Barnes and Noble has two power aisles cutting the store into four quarters. One aisle leads from front to back of the store. This aisle leads customers back to the music section in those stores with music sections. A second aisle, perpendicular to the first aisle, goes from left to right. This aisle leads to the childrens' section on one side of the store and to the computer software section before B&N dropped software from its inventory.

People tend to walk faster on hard floors and slower on carpet. Many stores have linoleum or tile aisles leading people through the store. Carpet is used between racks of merchandise. Extra plush carpet is used in areas where especially luxurious merchandise is displayed.

Librarians should observe how patrons move through your library. Here is a way to discover patterns of patron movement in a library. Make a simple map of the library. This map does not have to be to scale, but it should record furniture, collections, and other objects patrons may use. As patrons enter the library draw lines recording their path through the library. Record the paths of 25 to 50 patrons on the same map until traffic patterns begin to emerge. Major book displays should be located along major paths of traffic. These patterns will also show which parts of the collection are being used and not used.

Reducing Information Overload

During the interview, Linda said, "I could walk into a Barnes and Noble and in ten minutes walk out with a book and a latte. If I walked into a library it would take me a hour to to find a book and I would leave without the latte." Linda was referring to Barnes and Noble's practice of shelving by genre. Studies of patron behavior reveal the benefits of shelving by genre in libraries.

In 1907, William A. Borden pulled books from the fiction shelves to set up special shelving for historical novels and detectve fiction. During two years of observation, Borden noticed patrons who previously only browsed the new books began selecting books from the genre shelves as well. Readers also began picking lesser-known authors within their chosen genre.

- Source: "On classifying fiction" by William A. Borden.

- Library Journal, June 1909, pp. 264-265.

Librarians frequently complain that patrons read mostly new books while good, older books remain unread. For patrons unfamiliar with authors and titles, trying to select one book from shelves of thousands of books, is like trying to select the best brick in a wall. They all look alike. Borden's observations suggest that:

  • Patrons are most attracted to new books when this is the only collection presentation of books in limited numbers browsers can comprehend.
  • Patrons will select older books when they too are presented in limited numbers.

Sharon Baker's experiments during the 1980s found that circulation of classified fiction (i.e., shelved by genre) increased with the size of the library. In a library of only 2,500 volumes, circulation of classified fiction increased use only 39%. In a 6,000 volume library, 49%. In a library with 15,500 volumes circulation increased 349%.

- Source: "Will classification schemes increase use" by Sharon L. Baker. RQ, Spring 1988.

Short ranges of free-standing shelves more clearly separates genres. Barnes and Noble uses short free-standing shelves in the center area. Hanover Park Branch Library also uses shelving short in height and length. The short height establishes an openness to the small space. The short length provides more end-panels for displaying items face-front. The top shelf is also slanted for face-front displays. Above each section is a large attractive sign identifying the contents.

Librarians sometimes object to shelving by genre.

  • Some fiction books are hard to classify. Barnes and Nobel solves this problem by placing copies of books every place someone may look for a title and by training staff where books are and asking patrons to tell what kind of book it is. "Is it a mystery?"

When authors write in several genre, patrons can't find all the books by that author. One solution to this problem would be book dummies with messages telling patrons other locations for that author's other books.

Hanover Park Branch Library shelving offers space for front-face displays. My thanks to Michael Madden, Director of the Schaumburg (Illinois) Township District Library, for providing pictures of this library.

For those librarians not wishing to arrange their collection by genre, other methods for reducing information over load are described below.

  • Booklists do provide browsers recommended list of books. Booklists, however, face two challenges. Photocopying 8.5" by 11" booklists can become expensive. Placing booklists into the hands of patrons when needed can be difficult. Stacks of booklists are often located where patrons seldom look, especially not at the time patrons are needing them.

The following suggestion is cheaper than reproducing a stack of 8.5" X 11" booklists and puts the booklist at the spot where browsers are likely to be looking.

  • Make booklists. For fiction, identify the most popular authors (e.g., Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Tom Clancy) read by your patrons. Below are links to Web-sites listing the top selling authors, followed by lists of lesser-known authors who write like or one similar topics of the top selling authors. Identify the lesser-known authors in your collection. Make "If you like [give the name of a top-selling author], try [list the lesser-known authors in your collection]." These booklists direct patrons from authors most patrons have read to lesser-know authors in your collection.
  • Type these booklists including your library's name and hours at the bottom of the list or on the back of 3.5" by 8.5" bookmarks. This size bookmark will allow 3 bookmarks on one 8.5" by 11" page. Photocopy and cut out the bookmarks.
  • Punching holes at the top allows hanging the bookmarks on hooks attached to the end-panels nearest to the books by the top-selling author or, in the case of non-fiction nearest the books by the topic of the bookmark.
  • Or paste the bookmark on the spine of a book dummy (i.e., piece of wood the size of a book). Place the book dummy on the shelves between the bestseling author's books. This puts booklists in the spots browsers are mostly likely to find the information when needed.

The following online sites offer "If you like..., try...." for the creation of the bookmarks described above.

Sharon Baker discovered that merely placing a red dot on spines of books on the regular shelves with signs on the end panels saying red dots mean recommended books increased circulation of those books by 9% to 179%. Dots of different colors could represent different genres, different awards (e.g., Nebula vs. Hugo) or different sources of recommendation (e.g., Modern Library list best novels). Here are some sources providing lists of books to dot.

This dot-recommend system could be publicized by rewarding patrons reading the most recommended books. Keeping records for reading recommended books. At a yearly pot luck dinner, hand-out certificates recognizing readers who have read specific numbers of dot-recommended books.

  • Book displays are the most effective way to recommend books. Standing books up on a low table is boring and suggests that the books are insignificant. Effective displays will recommend the books by being located where the display will be seen; will attract the eye with color and signage and making the books important.
  • Attracting the eye.

Daviess County Public Library in Owensboro, Kentucky creates eye-catching displays based on color instead of topic. They have a "white sale" display each January. On this display all books have white covers. The library also has displays of different colors. One display was called "Think Pink." Jane Fink, head of the Creative Services & Promotions Department, writes, "You'd be surprised how many [pink covers] there are, and no, they are not all feminine topics." For July 2002, the library displayed "red, white and blue" books. The topics of these books were not patriotic, they just have red, white and blue covers.

  • Signage. Barnes and Noble uses some signs to entice customers to stop and look at displays. Barnes and Noble does not use many signs because they expect staff to maintain personal contact with customers.

In Why we buy: the science of shopping, Paco Underhill writes, "Take a look at that [bookstore] wall, over near the information desk. What do you see? This week's New York Times 'Best seller list,' or rather a grimy copy of it, taped up. Next to it is a rather grimy photocopy of the Modern Library list of the so-called one-hundred top novels of the twentieth century. Have you ever seen a more pathetic display of such useful and interesting information?" Underhill advises that such lists should be reproduced in large print for easy reading over displays of books on the list.

Sign readability is a combination of the color contrast between the letters and their background, the shape of the letters and the size of the letters.

      • Color contrast. Studies reveal that the difference in the amount of light reflected by the colors of letters and background are important for readability. Readable signs have either the letters reflect a lot of light on backgrounds relfecting little light or the reverse. The smaller the letters on a sign the greater the contrast that is needed to keep the sign readable.

Below is the ranking of color combinations from most readable to least readable.

          1. Black on yellow
          2. Black on white
          3. Yellow on black
          4. White on blue
          5. Yellow on blue
          6. Green on white
          7. Blue on yellow
          8. White on green

- Source: Sign systems for libraries by Dorothy Pollett, et. al., page 238

        • Shape of letters.
          1. Block lettering (i.e., san serif) is most easily read for signs.
          2. Signs of less than four words can be written in capital letters. More than four words should be written in combinations of upper and lower case.

- Source: Sign systems for libraries by Dorothy Pollett, et. al., page 239-40

        • Size of letters. How far away will patrons be when they read the sign? Size the letters so they are easily read at the furthest distance patrons are likely to read the sign.
          1. At 8 feet, make 1 inch tall letters or, in wordprocessor, 95 point size.
          2. At 16 feet, make letters 2 inches tall, 190 point size.
          3. At 32', 4 inch letters, 380 point size.
          4. At 64', 8 inch letters, 760 point size.
        • Signs intended for people far away can be hung from ceilings. However, if signs are too high they will not be easily seen. Peoples easily see objects from eye level upward about 30 degrees.
          • At 5 feet away from the sign, the sign can be as high as 6' and still be easily seen.
          • At 10 feet away, signs can be 7' off the ground and still be seen.
          • At 20 feet, signs can be 8' 8" feet off the ground.
          • At 30 feet, signs can be 10' off the ground.

- Source: Designing and space planning for libraries: A behavioral approach by Aaron Dohen, et. Al. 1979, pp. 205-206.

Endcap in Daviess County Public Library, Owensboro, Kentucky.

Daviess County Library also uses eye-catching displays based on color.

      • Lighting displays. Studies show that illuminated displays are looked at twice as much and twice as long as unilluminated displays. My informant saw the effect of lighting displays first hand. In her children's section was a "porch." The porch was an overhang with two supporting uprights. Plush animals are displayed on the porch. When my informant started working at B&N almost nothing on the porch sold. One day the district manager visited the store. He took one look at the porch and asked for a ladder. He got up and adjusted the lights. Within three weeks everything on the porch sold. Below is information to help you select display lights.

Hanover Park's wallshelves offer display areas at the top and in the middle. The top area is lit to attract attention. Though large signs identify the contents of the shelves the books are arranged in Dewey Decimal order.

Lighting in the top of the wall shelves in the Hanover Park Branch Library light the top several rows of books.

Halogen lamps are an incandescent light like regular light bulbs. They cost between $50 and $200 dollars depending on the wattage, but they run about 20% more efficiently than regular incandescent light bulbs. The spot light shape of their bulbs makes them suitable for displays.

Ceramic metal-halide lamps are currently recommended for displays. They provide a white, spotlight bright enough to illuminate displays in well-lit rooms. Furthermore, they are very cost-efficient and their bulbs last 4 to 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs. The initial purchase is expensive. They require special fixtures, their bulbs are very expensive. Care must to taken to place them in the fixtures correctly. However, the bulbs long life and cost-effiency saves money in the long run.

Ceramic Metal-halide Fact sheet #2 (

Daviess County Public Library supports many activities in town with displays of library materials. This is an exhibit of Civil War materials in the library in partnership with a Civil War exhibit in a local museum.

      • Daviess County organizations have grown to value library displays in promoting the local events. Library Director Deborah Mesplay writes, "We now have numerous organizations contacting us and asking if we will put up a display on a particular subject or issue that relates to an organizational activity." Jane Fink of the library's Creative Services & Promotions Department writes that the library has done displays on adoption and foster parenting for CASA, nutrition for the local County Extension Office, women in politics and women get the vote for the local League of Women Voters, water resources for the utility company and many more.
      • Recommending books on display dramatically increases the number of books taken off the display. The Miami Township Branch of the Dayton and Montgomery County Library in Ohio found displayed books with recommendations are 2.6 times more likely to be taken than displayed books without recommendations.

Library staff and patrons write recommendations on the cards. I created a template card that can be printed out and photocopied.

Whenever patrons mention liking a book, staff ask patrons to write a one- or two-sentence recommendation on the card. Here are two sample recommendations. "A gut-wrenching thriller, sensational thriller! Not for the faint of heart." "I laughed so hard chocolate milk came out my nose."

The card is placed in the book with "Recommended book" written on the top of the card showing above the top of the book. Recommended books are placed on shelves in slotted endpanels. Many patrons zip into the library and go straight to these displays; quickly choose a book, check it out and zip back out to their car. When recommended books are checked out, cards are removed and kept at the circulation desk to be replaced in books are checked-in.

Below are links to more book display ideas.

Promotion of non-fiction reading (

No comments: