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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

ARRT Takes Over the Blog: Merchandising by Leah White

Today Steering Committee Member Leah White from Northbrook Public Library joins the fray with her thoughts on merchandising our books in the library setting.

Recently, I was in New York City during BEA, and decided to take a day trip to visit my friend Stephanie Anderson - aka @bookavore - at the Darien Library in Connecticut. When I first met Stephanie she was the manager of WORD, a small but mighty independent bookstore in Brooklyn (worthy of both your money and emulation, by the way). Now she is the Head of Readers’ Advisory at Darien and with her background of working for a totally rad indie bookstore, she is doing some very cool stuff with merchandising that I have been implementing at my library, Northbrook Public Library, and wanted to share.

Merchandising is something that bookstores do every day. Not sure what it means? Basically it is the act of promoting sales. I know, I know. Libraries aren’t selling anything. So what does that really mean and what does that mean for libraries? Often we find that when a book moves from the New Books section to the regular stacks, it goes there to die. Every now and again, the book sees the light of day because low and behold, someone needs that exact title and you help them find it or perhaps you grab it for your Beach Reads display. But let’s be real here. Most stacks are just not browsable.

Merchandising is the answer to your browsability problem. This can be as simple as turning a book faced out. We see this every day when we put out book displays. Good looking covers attract people. We know it is true and yet we hide these covers for the sake of organization. We have to stay organized but how do we get around this? Start using a few merchandising techniques and I promise you will be amazed. Most of these techniques do not require new shelving or even a big investment of money. It does require you to re-think your displays and put in some time and thought.

This is a picture I took at Darien Library and there are two really great things happening here. The Librarian Favorite bookmark is the first thing I started doing when I got home from NYC. This takes a book display or a book that is facing out already to the next level. Patrons LOVE them. I have found that some like to keep them and use them as bookmarks, while others set them politely next to the empty book holder, in case we want to re-use them.

The other technique being used is what I’m starting to call  the stacked book method. Do you have multiple copies of a book? Set one underneath your book on display. Why? How many times have you had to tell people that they can check out the books on the display? Instead of creating yet another sign to put on your display telling people display books are all available for check out,  this simple act of stacking shows patrons a few things. First, it gives them permission to take the book, and second, it removes their feeling of guilt that they are somehow taking a book that someone else should have a chance to read. Also, it looks awesome, and saves time. When someone takes the book, you now have another one right underneath it.

This, librarians, is a shelftalker. Meet your new favorite thing. There are a lot of libraries jumping on the shelftalker train right now and that is because they work. There’s something eye catching about them that draws people down aisles and gets the patron to take a closer look in the stacks. You can use shelftalkers in all sorts of ways - you can promote past literary award winners, write a small blurb for an author, highlight a specific book, or you can follow Darien’s lead and highlight your staff member’s reading tastes and put the shelf talker right on your Staff Picks display.  You can do them on the cheap too. Slap your logo on some cardstock and laminate them. Voila! You have a shelftalker! You can also purchase shelftalker holders from a company like ShelfWiz, which is what my library is using.

These are just a few things that you could start doing, and there is much more. Increased displays, uniform signage, books faced out within the stacks - really the sky's the limit here. Now here is your homework - visit your local independent bookstore. Not sure where that is? Indiebound will tell you: http://www.indiebound.org/indie-store-finder For a time, libraries were trying very hard to be like bookstores but, in my humble opinion, the wrong ones. We don’t want to be the next Borders. We should want to be more like WORD or, if you’re in the Chicago area, Unabridged Bookstore. These local businesses are thriving because of their awesome staff, their knowledge of excellent books, and their ability to make those books appealing to people who might not even know what they’re looking for yet. Libraries can learn a lot from the indie bookstore, and a big thank you to Stephanie at Darien for showing me that.

Leah White is a Reader Services Librarian at the Northbrook Public Library and a 2012 Library Journal Mover and Shaker. She is a member of the Adult Reading Round Table Steering Committee. Leah graduated from Dominican University with her Master of Library and Information Science in 2008. She enjoys reading comic books, Instagramming pictures of her pets, and spending too much time reading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. You can find her on Twitter: @leahlibrarian or check out her website:leahwhite.weebly.com.

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