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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Make All of Your Displays Interactive-- Both for Staff and Patrons

Today's post is inspired by one of my new favorite tips to share with the staff I work with in person. I often say these things so much to the people I actually come into contact with that I worry I am repeating myself. And then, I remember that the vast majority of you interact with me here and not in person. So, today I am passing on my love of building a patron friendly library where conversation is not only encouraged, but runs rampant, and it all starts with making sure every single staff member and patron/user at your library has a chance to participate in your service to leisure readers.

That is my overall goal for all of you in your service to leisure readers. It is the thesis statement behind everything I say, do, and teach.

Displays are one of the easiest ways to get this participation bonanza going, and the end of the year is the best time to start. Why? Well it’s because everyone has an opinion on what THE BEST thing they read or watched this year was. And these opinions are varied and different. And that is AWESOME for a display.

Let’s start with the concept first and then a specific example second.

You need to make every single display you do participatory in some way. Patrons are used to seeing displays, they are used to browsing them, they are used to taking books from them, but they are never asked to help build them.

Likewise, while specific staff members or departments are responsible putting up and taking down displays, why aren’t all staff members asked to help with ideas or to fill the display?

The more voices and opinions we include in building the displays, the better our displays are because they represent a wider view of the “topic.” You cannot and will not think of every possible book that could work on any given display. But the collective brain-- you, staff, patrons-- working together will by default have a wider view of the topic at hand, thus creating a better and more responsive display.

Here is a specific example that works very well at this time of the year and can be a great starting point to creating more participatory displays all year long.

Take an empty display shelf, one near a service desk and put a sign on the top-- WHAT IS THE BEST THING YOU CHECKED OUT OF THE LIBRARY THIS YEAR? Send an email to staff and ask them to put a few things that answers this question for them in the display.  Then sit back and watch patrons and staff fill it for you!

Now, a couple of problems right off the back that I will address.  One, yes, you might get kids filling it with sex, poop, and fart books. But, if it is in a high traffic area you can monitor it. Two, if you ask people to take books off the shelf and put them in a display that means the item may not be where the catalog says it is. This is valid, but to answer it I always say, “Has there every been a day when everything you looked for was exactly where it was supposed to be?” The answer is always NO. So take a deep breath and get over it. If you are doing this type of display, you will know to check the interactive display if an item is not on the shelf before declaring it “missing."

Here’s why this display is awesome:

  • This display becomes a community created best lists where everyone’s voice and opinion counts. As the organizer of this display make sure you are keeping a record of the items that show up in the display. You can then release the community best list-- in print, online, heck even let the newspaper know. I know my local paper would LOVE this as an article. And you did nothing. You simply asked them to tell you what was “best."
  • A display of this kind allows ANY ITEM you carry to be considered best. From book to video to Go Pro camera-- whatever that patron thinks was the best thing they checked out this year is included.
  • This best list is not dependent upon the items released in the current year. At the library, the year something came out is not as relevant as other places. But every other outlet will be focused on the best of 2017. 
  • You get a real time sense of what in your collection is deemed the most useful by your patrons. If they are telling you they loved it, you should probably get more of that “it.” Also, you should probably get readalikes for that “it.” When do we get such honest and useful feedback? Um, never.
  • Don’t overestimate how much fun patrons will have adding books to a library display shelf. You seriously might never get them to stop. And I would argue that you shouldn’t even ask them to stop. They should always feel free to add to our displays. In fact, it is weird that this is NOT a thing. [Side note: in 2018, I am going to make this a thing so that in the future people will think it was weird that we never let patrons add to our displays. Stay tuned.]
  • People now know that you care what they think. You might be the nicest most helpful library in the world, but patrons think of the library workers as experts who don’t want their regular person opinions. I know we do want them, but they don’t know we do. And who can blame them? It’s not like we ever asked. 

Now to keep this going all year long----

Every display should have an interactive element. Sometimes it will be big like the above example, but other times, it may be smaller and more subtle.

To include staff going forward, let them know ahead of time your upcoming topics. Ask them to contribute [if they want] titles to that display. Not only will you get a title you might not have thought of, but also, you may find out that a staff member really likes a genre or type of book and you had no idea. That not only helps you to identify another resource when you get a reader with similar tastes, but it builds camaraderie between staff members. It helps to remind us that while we all work in a specific department, we have likes across all departments and we are all a single team working together to help all patrons. As we stay in our specific departments, this team attitude often gets forgotten.

You can also move on to soliciting topics of future displays from all staff too. Having been part of a team that did multiple displays a month for 15 years, I know that we all run out of new ideas. Why aren’t we asking staff from other parts of the library for ideas too?  For that matter, why aren’t we asking patrons what topic of displays they want to see?

Which leads me to an easy way to make a display interactive for patrons. You don’t always have to invite them to add books to the displays to include them [but in general, I think this is a great idea for every display, every time, as I mention above]. But, you can always have a question to go with every display, a small pile of paper, and a box for them to leave the answers. So if you have a display of historical fiction, for example, you could have a sign with a question like-- What is Your Favorite Time Period to Read About? or What Time Would You Travel To If You Could? or even, What Historical Eras Do You Want Us To Have More Books About?

All of these questions will help you to serve your readers better. You can put these out with the physical display and on your social media channels. People get to express their opinions and we find out what truly interest them. The result is that we can develop our collections to better suit their wants AND our displays go from ho-hum to must visit by patrons. They will want to come back to see what we are asking them.

Again, staff should be encouraged to participate too.

When we ask people-- staff or patrons-- to participate in our service they feel like they are important. And they always have been, but we do not show them that we believe this nearly often enough . We can’t do our jobs of helping leisure readers without our fellow staff members or the patrons. All are vital to our success. They have value and can truly help us elevate our service-- but we have to ask.

Interactive displays are fun. They are a slight twist to a core service. And the results both physical and psychological are priceless.

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