Lessons for Libraries from Retail Space Planners
Mountain Plains Library Association (MPLA) joined Utah Library Association (ULA) this year for a joint conference. I was fortunate to attend the pre-conference in Salt Lake City called "Extreme Library Makeover". I hope others have the opportunity to see these presenters deliver their presentations. Until then, I'll do my best to bring what I gleaned from the day.
The first hour was presented by Las Vegas-Clark County Library's Anna Vaillancourt in a presentation titled "Put a Little Glitz in Your Library." Discussions included ways to jazz up the circulation desk area and a review of new ideas from various manufacturers and photos of actual installations. Next was an eye-opening portion of the workshop aptly named "Wheelchair Round-Up: Interactive Exercises in Access" that included participants viewing life through the lens of a person who experience visibility issues or accessibility challenges in daily work and public spaces. Jane Hatch of Kansas City Public Library has learned first hand what happens when planners are not in tune with the issues that face a person using a wheelchair or scooter. Attendees were able to test drive vehicles that are sometimes used to support those with special needs and to see things from the level that a "sitter" views on an everyday basis. With the world's population of boomers, we know that all of us will need to understand and use this kind of information if we live long enough.
The third part of the four part pre-conference session called "Merchandising Your Library" was conducted by Marsha Leclair-Marzolf and Scott Russell of Salt Lake City Library. The presentation covered the importance of merchandising and displays in the library which included a slide show of ideas from bookstores and libraries around the country. Marsha and Scott encourage people who put together displays to use more Velcro-type or gummy back methods of attaching signs and paper instead of scotch tape to create cleaner looking areas.
Books displayed on slanted shelving and placed face-out are in the best position to attract readers and therefore get checked out. We learned that the eyes tire after scanning a shelf and need a visual "break" every 18 inches and less full shelves are more attractive and easier to view than fully loaded shelving. One good idea is to display books using pyramid configurations, making it easier to move around all sides of a table. Be conservative in the use of angles when designing displays or copy so that the angles are emphasizing what we want the observer to see first. Other ideas shared by the presenters included the use of various fabrics, materials and the use of common objects such as placemats to bring in pattern and interest. Scott said, "A display must please or surprise before it can inform."
After lunch Anne Marie Luthro of Envirosell, a company that conducts research based on observing shoppers behavior, treated us to an informative look at what is important to know when planning library spaces. For example, there is a "decompression zone" where little is absorbed by the individual and following this area is a "point of recognition" (words, pictures or maps) or "point of interaction" in any building entry. The person who enters must be given choices at the appropriate time or the decision they will make will not be based on the information that could ideally be presented to them if the planner of the building was informed of these areas and what this means. Many models were given as examples as how the planner of the space "can control the experience and provide the landscape shoppers want and need" (in this case the patrons of a library). We were given many statistics on how various segments of our population (men, women, teenagers and children) react to their environment as shown by the research of Envirosell.
Incorporating as many of the senses as possible is a way to capture the attention of a shopper/patron. Using sight, sound, smell and movement to draw the attention and knowing that the person you are drawing in only has a small window of opportunity for being able to "read" what is there for him, whether the message is words or a visual.. Too much signage is visual clutter. As there are many messages that libraries need to communicate to their patrons, libraries need to be pay special attention to this idea. We learned that there is a "dominant right" since 85% of our population is right handed, people veer to the right and what it is that you want the patron to see would be best positioned at this spot. The use of desks and how they sometimes create barriers to communication was discussed. Many times side-by-side communication works well. The topic of customer service came up and we were reminded how staff personality impacts the physical area.
Visual reflection was talked about as an issue to consider, both what is seen through the window as well as what is reflected in the mirror that the window creates. The front window gives the patron their first glimpse of what occurs inside the library building. It is important the message in this front window invites the patron into the building and creates a sense of comfort for him.
Anne Marie had this advice:
According to Anne Marie, "the less you do outside, the more you do inside." If the message to your patrons begins on the exterior of your building then the message continues on the interior. She added, "You must know your patron to serve them."
Tish Murphy, Library Furniture Consultant and Author of Library Furnishings; A Planning Guide lives in Phoenix, Arizona. www.libraryfurnishings.com
This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License