or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Seeding Book Displays

   December 14th, 2010

Book display missing one bookOne question I get asked all the time, by patrons who were attracted by one of our book displays and then spent a few minutes looking at all the books, is, "can these books be checked out?"

The answer is of course yes (that's why we put them on display). I don't actually mind answering the question, but any time I'm repeatedly asked the same question, I think there has got to be a better way to communicate the answer.

Signs are always the first option, but signs can go wrong quickly.

Then it struck me to use the same trick that restaurateurs and buskers use - you know when you see a tip jar with money already in it, you're more likely to put some in yourself versus a jar with nothing in it?

To translate this theory to book displays, we could start using dollar bills as bookmarks in display books, but I thought a better idea would be to always leave one of the display stands empty. It's subtle and non-verbal, but if someone sees that someone else has already checked out one of the books from the display, it might communicate to them that it's okay for them to check one out, too. Which is what we want them to know, especially if no staff person is around for them to ask.

I did this on all the displays around the Reference desk last week, and I'm waiting to see if anyone asks about checking out a display book. Usually it happens a couple times a week - so far so good.

What do other people do to let patrons know it's okay to check out display books?

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15 Responses to “Seeding Book Displays”

  1. Alyssa Says:

    This is such a simple, yet great idea! This is a challenge I face every day in my library and for me, leaving a display unit open reflects poorly on us as if the library doesn’t have enough books on the topic to warrant filling in another space. I didn’t even think about it as a customer seeing that someone else had checked something out. Usually I put up a sign that says “Check these books out!” or something along these lines. But our patrons don’t read the signs so I think I’m going to try out this method!

  2. Laura Says:

    Like this idea!
    On my display signs, I put “These books may be borrowed” at the bottom and this seems to help.

  3. M Wms Says:

    Clever, Brian!

  4. Sarah Says:

    As a patron, I would get a lot of information from that—it’s exactly the kind of context I look for.

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  6. Jennifer M Says:

    What a fantastic idea! Despite putting a star with the phrase “Please check me out!” on display signs, I still got asked the question. Going to have to give this one a try.

  7. Abby Says:

    I’ll be honest here: it kind of makes my palms sweat to have empty spaces on displays… 🙂

    At my previous library, we stuck in little slips that said “Please check us out!”. Not for every book on the display, necessarily, but in a few of them.

  8. Brian Herzog Says:

    Thanks everyone – if you try it, let me know how it goes.

    @Abby: That’s actually the consensus staff is coming to in my library – many of us are bothered by the empty stands. We also are leaning towards trying bookmarks, too, except for a few things:

    • We’ve been trying to cut down on the amount of stuff we print, just to conserve paper
    • Everything we’ve thought of to print on the bookmarks all sounds slightly perverted and suggestive:
      • Check me out!
      • Pick me up and take me home!
      • Curl up in bed with me!

    I’m sure there is some happy medium, so we’ll keep experimenting.

  9. Thomas Says:

    What if you attached a card to the two front uprights of the book easel (that the book rest against.) It could say something like “I’m a great read, check me out”. Sort of a positive inverse of the signage you see in an empty greeting card display. When someone picks up the book they’ll (hopefully) see the sign.

  10. Emily W. Says:

    I was thinking about something in the same vein as Thomas (above), with the card on the bookstand underneath the book. And having it say “Yes, you can check this book out!”

    We have a similar problem at my library, but on a somewhat larger scale. We’re an unusual venue, so people often don’t even understand that they can check out the books on the shelves, much less the books on display.
    Just to play devil’s advocate though, sometimes it’s nice to have an opener like “Can I check this book out?” before getting into weightier things like “where are the books on embarrassing topic X?”

  11. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Thomas: That might be the best idea for a sign – something small that people would only really notice when a book interested them, instead of just putting one big sign on the display. I’ll have to play with that and see if I can get something that will work on our stands.

    @Emily: That’s a good point – we could even encourage communication by having the little signs read something like, “This book can be checked out – ask at the desk for more on this subject.” Hopefully that would be enough prompt for people to feel okay in approaching us.

  12. Erin Says:

    One thing we do at Millersville is put custom bookmarks in the books on display. We make sure that the part at the top is sticking out of the books. The ones I designed are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/libraryscenester/4081096898/

  13. Cynthia Says:

    One of our branches has been doing the same thing, for the same reason, for about a year now. It works great!

  14. Erin Says:

    Oh I really like that idea – but do you worry that it will make your display seem emptier? or you go and fill in every so often as books are checked out, so you only have one open stand per display? a lot of upkeep? working out okay?
    $ bill as bookmark, don’t think I’d go for that..

  15. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Erin: I like those – eye catching. If we do go with bookmarks, I might lift a couple of your ideas.

    @Cynthia: I’m happy to hear it does work – people at my library are still skeptical.

    @Erin: I have been limiting it to one empty stand per display (but it’s honestly still difficult to check my automatic response to pull a book to fill the open slot). So far so good – we only have three displays in the reference area, so upkeep is manageable. And no, dollar bills would not go over well, but if we do use bookmarks, I’d like them to have some kind of “value” – they could list readalikes, advertise library book groups, etc – something in addition to the “check me out!”