Have you Frontlined it today?
New ways of looking
A few years back I did an online course called Frontline. At the time I was quite depressed and anxious and thought I'd be the first person to flunk it. I really wasn't looking forward to it.
Frontline is designed to improve the customer engagement skills of library workers and has a strong focus on helping us produce better book displays. Although Frontline is UK-based, the course I did was being run our friends at State Library Victoria. The SLV promoted the application of the course's techniques with the snappy slogan of: Have you Frontlined it today?
I started with low expectations. But, as I got into it, I was surprised about what I was learning about my library customers and their behavior. I was also learning about the common mistakes and misplaced assumptions that even experienced library workers have, myself included.
Frontline taught me how to create successful displays. It's not something that I'd been taught as a student and it's something that, as it turned out, I'd been taught poorly on the job. Most things I knew about book displays were wrong.
Here's a few key things Frontline taught me:
- Let the books speak for themselves. Ditch the explanatory signs and distracting glitz and props. Book covers are enough.
- Unless it is appropriate to the theme, emphasize recent releases. A new book display should only have titles published this year and last year. On aisle displays I'll go as far back as 3 years.
- Select books with attractive, clean and professional looking covers. Emphasize the eye-catching and stay clear of anything that looks dirty, worn, damaged or has an amateurish design. Why didn't my display of books about cooking with chocolate work? It's because the covers were brown and purple and subdued.
- Create patterns, alternating books by colour and shade, creating contrast and symmetry.
- Don't obscure some books with others. This cannot be avoided on some tiered shelving, but it can be reduced by locating small books on the front row or by selecting covers with a low-placed title for the bottom shelf and books with high-placed titles on the next shelf up.
- Be reader-centric. Play and experiment with different layouts, locations and themes, but always monitor customer response. If no one goes near the display or the loans are few and far between, then it's not connecting; try to figure out the problem and discover a more engaging alternative. Let the readers lead you to what they find attractive.
The full Patterson and the Archer option
Here's where things get tricky.
Some library workers want to promote quality literature, regardless of what the customers want. I've tried that too, but have come to the realisation that if there's a choice between displaying a new copy of a Charles Dickens classic or the latest Sylvia Day, I'll go with the latter every time.
Stay with me. There is logic to this madness.
I have tried creating Frontlined displays that are pitched to the assumed high-brow readers of a branch and been rewarded with shunned and stagnant displays. All those short-listed and prize-winning novels sitting around, face out and being ignored isn't good for your reputation (or your mood). A real measure of how reader-centric your display is its turnover rate. It might make you feel good presenting quality literature to the masses, but do they want it?
Using the same display space and layout rules I've then gone the full James Patterson and populated a populist display with best sellers, chick-lit, chook-lit, thrillers and murder mysteries. I've then found myself suddenly busy running about filling in the gaps left by these borrowed and truly wanted titles. A display that connects! Who would have thought?
Be proud of those books where the author gets larger font than the title. And, if you have older males in your customer base, don't forget the books for the blokes; learn to stop worrying and love the likes of Clive Cussler, Lee Child and Stuart Woods. A display is a message to your customers, so be inclusive and give them something that they relate to. Be prepared to take the Jeffrey Archer option and even try out those Bear Grylls novels (although the blokes at my library don't seem too keen on him).
A high turnover display has some interesting consequences. To keep the display filled you can now start to include some mid-list and even some snobby literary titles. Keep monitoring it and compare what's on display with what's on the returns trolley and swap as necessary. I also use canned searches on the LMS to tell me what new books are currently on the shelf. If you've got it right, your display is now dynamic, fresh, varied, gender inclusive and popular. It becomes a feature attraction that people want to visit and borrow from.
A literary elitist may well get a buzz from filling little-used displays with worthy literature. For the rest of us, including most of our customers, it's the populist display that gets our happy hormones flowing. It's good to watch books being borrowed from your display and Frontline helped me to go from funk to funky. It's also good for the customer to see a display that actually relates to their reading interests. It might even be good for your loan stats, too.
So, have you really Frontlined it today?