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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Call to Action: All You Need for a Display Are Items for Patrons to Check Out

Today I have a Call to Action post that is more of a gentle reminder:
You do not need props, a backdrop, or and visuals components to put up a library display. ALL YOU NEED ARE ITEMS FOR YOUR PATRONS TO CHECK OUT!
All over the internet I see these intricate and massive set ups for displays made by library workers who have probably spent more time on the props than on the book choice.

Now, don't get me wrong, these are visually stunning, and as the former boss of an employee who LOVED making the displays look awesome, I get it. If you have a staff member with the skills to create an intricate backdrop for your displays, let them use their skills for good. Please, do not stop them.

However, I want to talk to the vast majority of you out there who are feeling inferior because all you did was put out some items on an open shelf.

You are doing a great job too!

As Joyce Saricks taught me, people gravitate to a smaller universe of books. The vast expanse of the stacks is overwhelming to most patrons, this is why no matter where or how you display smaller groups of books, patrons will stop and browse them. It is much easier for our brains to tackle a smaller set of choices.

This also means you don't even need fancy shelving in order to put items out for display. You simply need a flat surface where you can group a few titles. Also, while a subject or title  for the display is nice, it isn't necessary.

Simply grouping books that you think patrons may enjoy, face out on the end of a shelf, on your desk, on an empty table top, anywhere is enough. In fact, it is more than enough, it is perfect!

The "face out" part is key though. Get as many books you display face out as possible because the covers were designed by professional artists whose job it is to make the books look good. They are the ones with the artistic and display skills, and they have already been hired to do that job. Use their hard work to help you make a great display by showcasing the covers of the book.

[See also: my 2008 post on judging books by their covers. Summary of said post-- do it and encourage patrons to join you in this fun and slightly scandalous activity.]

The point of a display is to catch patrons' attention and encourage them to check out an item they would enjoy, but probably couldn't find on their own. We are there to enable discovery, and studies show that discovery happens with or without a fancy backdrop.

Don't believe me? Try this for a few days. Just put out a cart of recently returned items somewhere patrons can browse it. Don't sort it. Just plop the mess from the book drop onto a cart and place it in the middle of the lobby. Patrons will attack it. Why? Precisely because it has a little of everything and does not look too fancy to touch. I know this is true because for many years do to lack of space, we had our return carts in an area where the public and staff areas came together. Patrons LOVED this cart. When we were able to move it to the back, we had tons of complaints. So we created a shelf of recently returned items to satisfy demand. [By the way, that is a display that fills itself and people love it.]

Since just having a few books grouped together, away from the mass of the stacks, draw them in, you do not NEED to be fancy. [Again, if you want to and it isn't a burden go for it, but I know for the vast majority of my readers, it is the "making it pretty" part that is the rate limiting step.]

So spend your time picking the items you want to display and get them up quickly, rotating often. Make sure you are highlighting under the radar titles that would otherwise languish in the stacks without your help. Target those titles from 2-5 years ago that are great reads but have simply gone out of fashion. 

And make sure you are selecting books that are inclusive and diverse. In other words, your books shouldn't only be by heterosexual white dudes. A mix of voices and experiences makes for the best kind of display because it represents the breadth of our reality and the fact that the world is made up of all kinds of people, with different strengths, identities, and perspectives.

Let's help our patrons find a good read by not holding ourselves to an impossible visual standard. Get those items face out and displayed somewhere, anywhere. And watch your patrons happily encounter something they never would have found on their own. 

For past Call to Action posts, visit the archive here.

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