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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Notes from the Field
Merchandising can be a great way to market your collection. While no one’s saying libraries should be exactly like bookstores, many of the general merchandising principles found in retail can be very useful for displaying your materials and making your library an attractive, welcoming place.
Susan Schroeder, manager of the Helen Warner Branch of the Willard Library in Battle Creek, Michigan, is passionate about the service her branch provides to the Battle Creek community—and it’s all in the merchandising.
Rebecca: Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be in your current position.
Susan: Like so many of my colleagues, I started working as a page in my local library at 16 and have been in a library in one context or another ever since. I got my MILS in 1990 from the University of Michigan and right out of grad school worked at the State Library as a technology trainer in an IMLS grant program, teaching fellow librarians how to use TCP/IP, search gophers, and use (ugly) Pine e-mail.
Willard Library Director Richard Hulsey was a visiting lecturer at my library school, and I applied for my directed field experience at Willard because of his approach to public service. I wanted to work professionally in a public library, so I took a position as the fiction and children’s librarian and a few years later moved to Willard Library in Battle Creek to be the acquisitions manager.
Rebecca: How has your position changed over the last 10 years?
Susan: Ten years later, I am the manager of our first branch library—the Helen Warner Branch. I feel so lucky to have entered the profession just as the technology was exploding—will it ever stop?—and the tools to improve our services were developing. I am very proud of my years of readers’-advisory and collection development experience. We had central selection for the branch for the first few years. When I came to Willard, I asked to take on some of the ordering. I am on the desk about 20 hours a week and really love talking about books with the public. I currently select the nonfiction titles for the branch—it makes sense for me to be able to order what people are asking for and recommend new titles to people who are browsing. My aim is to have popular, high-buzz books available and lots of copies of them!
Rebecca: What’s unique about your library’s approach to collection development?
Susan: Our mantra is urgency—get the product to the public as quickly as possible, and our selection and ordering are aggressive. We have a 2:1 holds ratio on all print materials, and at the same time, we have a separate best-seller collection of browsing copies that are available front and center on display. We utilize best-seller profiles and publisher standing-order plans for travel guides, test aids, etc., to make many of the selection choices automatic. We also order as much prepub as possible and use the rental book service through Baker and Taylor to get 100-plus copies of the newest books.
We carry this through to YA and children’s titles as well. When the Wimpy Kid and Percy Jackson books were in demand during summer reading, we had stacks of them! We also use as much preprocessing as possible from the vendors so the books are shelf ready when they arrive. The flip side to all of this is that weeding is, of course, an ongoing task. I’m one of those librarians who love to weed—it is essential for selection. We have the good fortune of being small enough that if we want to add a new collection such as the circulating Nooks, we can set up, train, and implement the collection pretty quickly, and our administration is very open to trying new ideas.
Rebecca: How do you keep up with what is current and popular with your patrons? It’s often easy with fiction but harder with nonfiction.
Susan: I subscribe to “Fresh Press” on the Fresh Fiction website (http://freshfiction.com/medias.php) to monitor authors on the talk-show circuit, and I check the Food Channel/DIY type show websites to see what they are pushing. I look at print runs of titles to see how big the publisher thinks the book will be. On any given day, our “new” shelves have multiple copies of the latest bio by a rock star, sports star, and political pundit, cookbooks, and craft fad and diet books. (Keep in mind, this is a popular collection—the depth of our collection is held at the Main Library.)
I also have an extra collection development fund just for the branch. I have used this for my projects—to refresh our large-print collection, fill in missing inspirational series (very popular here), and clean up our easy readers. I also use this fund for getting lots of fresh copies of books by whatever author we are bringing in for a program. Finally, we have a generous line in our materials budget for patron requests. While on the desk, staff can drop a title into the online shopping cart for immediate ordering, even for used out-of-print titles. This is a great way to pick up word-of-mouth items and to fill in missing series.
Rebecca: Tell us more about the merchandising techniques in use at the Helen Warner Branch.
Susan: We knew from the beginning we wanted to create a bookstore-style branch. Barnes & Noble opened practically across the street from our site as an anchor store in the local mall, and we wanted to create an equally inviting atmosphere here. We had a team of staff conduct site visits to libraries that we identified as using some of the principles of merchandising—signage, display, organization. We asked questions about their cataloging, shelving, and traffic patterns. We visited bookstores and brought back pictures of ideas we wanted to incorporate. We liked the BISAC headings for organization and opted to shelve children’s and adult nonfiction together.
I worked with the vendors to customize the preprocessing we use for this BISAC plan and worked with other staff to bring them along on the idea. We read Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping to better understand consumer behavior, and we began to think about our prime floor space in terms of display opportunities. We are very pleased with our ample slat-wall display and tiered tables at the entrance. We continue to send staff and even student shelvers out to bookstores and libraries to observe and adopt ideas and to look for ways to evolve. The public response to the organization is positive—they like that we place similar topics together for browsing, and our circulation statistics have continued to grow over the last eight years.
Rebecca: What advice would you give to a library looking to emulate your model?
Susan: For others looking to use merchandising techniques, I would recommend that they look at their traffic patterns within the library and rearrange furniture if necessary to use that space for the titles/collections most asked for—for example, set up a large table with multiple copies of best-sellers stacked with ample room to walk around it and browse. Weed your collection to make space on the shelves for face-out displays and use shelf-talkers to link to other areas of your collection—for example, link your pregnancy guides and baby-name books.
Feeling more ambitious? Catalog those learn-a-language materials so they are next to the travel information. Also, experiment with small displays, such as four or five read-alikes for a popular fiction title, or a tie-in with a recent news event, what the schools are currently studying, or what’s hot in pop culture.
Rebecca: What direction would you like your branch to take for the future?
Susan: I am really interested in better online marketing of the collection. We all use Amazon, Pinterest, and Facebook, and those sites drive our expectations of a library website and OPAC. It’s exciting to think of how the various formats of information and entertainment the public library provides could be presented using these robust social-media models. Collection development and readers’ advisory has changed for the better thanks to real-time inventory numbers and embedded reviews from vendors, as well as genre-specific websites and social-media sites.
Some facts about the Helen Warner Branch:
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