Patrons' Library Experience

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How Furniture Selection and Arrangement

Impacts Patrons' Library Experience

Research shows that only one out of every four people goes to the library for something specific. Most spend only five to ten minutes browsing, and few ask for help. That tells us that we're missing out on opportunities to engage with patrons, spark their interest and get them to stay longer.

If you're not involved in the day-to-day business of selecting library furniture and thinking about how it influences things like traffic flow, the concept of using furniture layouts to make your library more functional and accessible may be entirely new. However, there are some common-sense approaches that anyone can follow to significantly impact patron experience.

Retail Strategies

How can research into winning strategies for retail stores help libraries reach their patrons? You may think that libraries share nothing in common with retail stores, but it turns out that people search for books in a library the same way they shop for products in a store. Moreover, many of the tricks that retailers employ to entice shoppers to buy can be used to help patrons find books that will appeal to them and encourage them to borrow. The goals may be different, but the tactics are the same.

Brands pay for retail display space at different rates, as some locations perform better than others. Where’s the top spot in your library? It’s usually an area just past the entrance, but not right next to the circulation desk. Look for an area where people naturally slow down and start looking around. This is where you have the opportunity to catch their attention.

Once you’ve identified the best spot, check out what’s in it at the moment. Many libraries will find that this valuable space is occupied by the photocopier or a board with announcements. Copiers, community notices and announcements about book sales are all worthwhile but they don’t require use of your prime internal real estate. Move them further back in the library and reclaim your best space for an eye-catching book display.

Speaking of displays, retailers know that most people choose books from displays, rather than stacks. Don't fight against human nature. Display your books with the cover facing out whenever possible.

People start browsing a display from five yards away. Make sure your display units are positioned so they are directly in the sightline as patrons enter a space. Stand back and check what you see as you come in – if it’s the side of the display, turn the unit to meet the visitor head-on. Don’t be afraid to place displays in the center of aisles and entrances – this is where they will get most use. Displays at the side of a space often go unnoticed.

Always keep your displays well-stocked — the worst thing is an empty display. There should be more books than empty space. In a bookstore, an empty display means "someone is going to be fired." If a display is working well, it will start to empty quite fast. Librarians sometimes point to an empty unit as evidence of success. Yes, it’s evidence of past success but it’s a wasted opportunity in the present! If it’s working well, keep it filled up at all times. Did you know that if a display falls below 70% full, usage drops off? People think the best has gone, it’s been picked over.

The Paradox of Choice

Increasing choice does not always increase satisfaction. In fact, having too many choices can sometimes prove daunting and turn people off. As a result, many people find it easier to choose what they want from a smaller selection. In keeping with this natural tendency, consider smaller displays of intriguing titles – not necessarily the best sellers that patrons are already aware of. Choose books with attractive covers. You'll find that patrons interact with them more easily.

Also, strategically-placed smaller selections – curated by theme or subject matter – can grab the attention of people who are in a hurry, similar to the way grocery stores promote impulse purchases. By implementing such displays, you may appeal to people who otherwise wouldn't borrow materials. Watch your circulation numbers increase with smaller selections!

Beyond Straight Shelving

The traditional library layout is comprised of row upon row of tall shelving, with tables and chairs arranged in a classroom-style configuration. This can make the library look and feel like a staid, old-fashioned warehouse. Think about configuring shelving and furniture to draw people forward through your library and help them explore. Curved shelving units work wonders in this regard. Carefully designed layouts of curved shelving guide patrons through your library while giving them more room to browse. You don’t have to use real curves, just angle the bookcases together to give the illusion of a curve.

Patrons' eyes and feet are pulled along the curves to the next section before they even realize how they are being impelled forward. In this way the entire library space can be opened up as a series of discoveries. This makes books once doomed in the far stacks more accessible for readers who may fall in love with them.

Instead of separating books and subjects by sections within your shelves, consider creating thematic zones within your library. Set aside individual areas for study, discussion/interaction, fiction, lounge, non-fiction and children. Help guide patrons to the areas that interest them, and enhance your library's overall flow.

Think like a Child

We all know that areas in the library that are dedicated to small children should be stimulating and child-friendly. But what does that mean in actual practice? Remember that children are naturally tactile, curious and independent-minded. Our goal is to attract children's interest and make it easy for them choose books on their own.

Book displays that feature tactile elements invite children to touch and become engaged with reading, in a manner that feels natural, spontaneous and unintimidating to them. Incorporate the principles of tempting displays, manageable choices and physical ease, combined with a sense of play. Pique children's innate curiosity and engage their imagination with book displays that double as seating options.

Learning Commons & Interactive Areas

The concept of learning commons (and Makerspace, for younger patrons) has gained traction over the past few years. A successful learning commons is an energizing environment for a wide range of learning activities, whether in a public library, university or K-12 environment.

Creating a library space that people want to visit means understanding the different ways patrons actively engage with learning, both individually and socially. Modular tables and mobile bookcases enable the versatility to reconfigure spaces quickly and easily as groups and individuals (or classes) flow in and out of your library throughout the day.

Information presented by Opening the Book, North America. Click here to view a sample of their products.