Dewey and BISAC : A Middle Path to Developing a Display Oriented Library
A public library uses a mixture of BISAC and genre based collections to maximize display options and promote browsing by patrons. Prepared by McMillan Memorial Library for the April 2010 Central Wisconsin Library Conference. Download to see speaker's notes.
This program was prepared for the Central Wisconsin Library Conference April 2010 Both Dewey and BISAC are not ends, but means to an end. The end is also not the organization of materials (which is another means), but better customer service. Despite the seeming permanence of means such as Dewey, if the Library is to be a living organism, it must be open to changing the means used to achieve its ends.
I’m going to start with a little about our process and how we came to choose our current path. We started our move back before 2005. Our local economy was already in decline. We knew that city-wide cuts were coming, ones that would affect even the police and fire departments. Wisconsin Rapids is not a fast growing community and the tax base was likely to decline before rebounding. On the face of it, being in a 1970 building should not have been an advantage, but we have an exceptionally well designed and flexible building. For example, there are almost no load bearing walls and it is an adequate overall size. To our advantage, the library has a strong sense of the historical educational mission of the public library, so we were clear about the end we were aiming at. McMillan was (and continues to be) part of a very well run shared system, we are blessed with the support of several locally based foundations. The library has a well established endowment fund.
Our goal was excellence, since anyone can accomplish mediocrity or cut services. We were also well supplied with data. We had recently completed a long range plan, complete with telephone survey, focus groups and buy in from our staff and Library Board. We were working with an architect that understood libraries and librarians. (MS&R at http://www.msrltd.com/) We had been studying best practices and made an effort to get staff to the PLA conferences, which we felt were the best place to keep up on new developments. If you can’t attend, the handouts are available for most programs. http://www.placonference.org/2008/handoutspage.cfm and http://www.placonference.org/session_handouts.cfm . Mantras: We want to be leading edge, but we can’t afford to make large financial and staff commitments unless we are reasonable sure that what we are doing will work. So we needed to see things actually working in a similar setting. Also, if we were implementing something based on a retail or academic library experience, we would have to be aware that it needed to be adapted to our setting.
We were heavily influenced by Richmond’s PLA programs on power shelving, though they implemented it in a branch. We explored best practices from retail leaders, such as Nordstrom's, and from the hospitality industry. Why did not we not particularly base our plans more on bookstores – they are fading, have a different purpose. We were also very impressed with the research conducted by Paco Underhill, which resonated with our experiences and is based on observing and questioning customers. The third place is a term used to refer to social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home and the workplace. In his influential book The Great Good Place , Ray Oldenburg argues that third places are important for civil society , democracy , civic engagement , and establishing feelings of a sense of place . Oldenburg suggests these hallmarks of a true &quot;third place&quot;: free or inexpensive; food and drink, while not essential, are important; highly accessible: proximate for many (walking distance); involve regulars – those who habitually congregate there; welcoming and comfortable; both new friends and old should be found there. We consider libraries as a natural “third place.”
After a lot of exploration, we came down to 2.5 strategies. We wanted three distinct zones in the library: an Adult Room, much like a traditional library; a Children’s Room, which would have a different ruleset for acceptable behavior; and a Commons, where food, a relaxed atmosphere, and conversations rule. This was a major move, one we wrote up for Voya (Voya, October 2009, v. 32, n. 4 p. 296-7), but one that is not my subject today. We maximized self service options, which is a whole other program. See Doing More Despite Having Less (&quot;Perspectives&quot;), Public Libraries 2007(M/J):21–23 Updated to 2009 at http://www.mcmillanlibrary.org/library/doingmore.pdf . We also have Self-Checkout at McMillan at http://www.mcmillanlibrary.org/library/nutsnbolts.pdf Part of maximizing self-service was the move to a display oriented library, which is the main topic of this program.
In moving to a display oriented library we knew that any solution would have to be appropriate to our size and role in the community. We wanted to display as much as we could, focusing on new materials and AV. We wanted to expand our genre collections of older material and use both genre and BISAC based subject collections to display new materials. We wanted to have browsing areas, not just items in shelving units.
Libraries that have gone entirely to subject based displays, usually BISAC based, tend to be fairly small, about 30,000 books or less. It works best in a smaller branch, where a deep collection is near at hand. It is harder to implement at a large library, since it takes up a great deal of space, but would involve only a small portion of the collection. McMillan is “just-right” sized for our implementation. We have almost 20% of our fiction in the new books display and another 30% is in genre collections that are on walls. The remaining 50% is in stacks.
New books already go out frequently. This might be considered a reason to skimp on marketing them. We consider that this a reason to make sure that you display them to best advantage. Books are for use . New books an area patrons often use, so it should be the best looking part of the library. Easy to use, comfortable, good lighting, room to browse, room for multiple people. High traffic areas should receive the highest priority in terms of attention, staff and budget. It is quite possible to do new materials poorly. The demand for them can mask poor marketing, bad design, crowded spaces. New materials are the crown jewels of the library and deserve an optimal setting. You operate with a net when you display new materials. You will see what isn’t working, since if you mess them up, it is noticeable and if you do it right, it will be remarkable. It is a small enough collection to be able to experiment with. Try new shelving, new arrangements, new collections. Being a small collection, you can pile small change on top of small change. Some changes this year, more next year. Learn lessons, prove the concept, try it elsewhere in the library. Change the culture.
When we started, we had all new NF in one big pile and only broke out mysteries from the fiction. We now use 17 BISAC NF collections and 12 fiction collections. Almost all new books go into a collection – not car repair manuals, but very few exceptions. Items are considered “new” for a minimum of 12 months. This gives a title plenty of time to find readers and readers plenty of time to find a title on shelf. Very popular items stay longer because they are always out and aren’t there to be transferred. We use stickers to shelve items in the collections, some have the collection and date, while those that are already in their permanent genre (SF/CF/FAN) just get a date. It is the display shelving and space that make this more than rearranged stacks. We aren’t primarily using genres and BISAC to organize books, but to make our displays, and therefore our customers’ experience) better.
It’s not surprising, but it is a bit of an “aha” moment to see that books that have browsing space in front of them go out more often (2X) than the same books in a neighboring stack aisle. Librarians are not surprised that the bottom shelf is a death trap for books, especially in aisles. We don’t use the bottom shelf in any unit. We also got rid of most of our short shelving, which concentrated materials where they were difficult to use. Because of the narrowness of aisles (42 inches), most patrons will avoid an aisle if someone else is in it. This “butt brush” factor is more important for women than men. A browsing area is a destination, somewhere to come back to on a regular basis. If the collection is permanent but new materials are always being added, it rewards continued use. By contrast a unit with constantly changing topics is more like a slot machines – intermittently rewarding. Our permanent genre collections all have additional space in front of them to make it easier to browse. Noy as much as the displays, but significantly more than stacks. Our YA books (and graphic novels) are in a browsing collection. The area is spacious, but it is indented to facilitate browsing. Since it is part of the Adult Room, it is not a gathering or social area, but there to highlight a part of the collection. The Commons is our gathering/social area.
I mentioned “bite size” as an advantage. Our implementation was very gradual. We started with display shelving for New Books, but originally put the units in a stack like arrangement – force of habit. Later we moved them into an L shape to form more of a “room within a room,” that gave a feeling of privacy and intimacy. Next we experimented with breaking them down into genre/BISAC collections. It took a while to figure out which collections had “critical mass”. Our existing collections are the result of five years of development. Next, we added display shelving as part of our newly remodeled Commons area. In keeping with our concern about space, the DVDs and other AV are in 75 inch aisles, with extra space in front of the first unit. The ranges are slanted, which provides even more space. The two DVD ranges generate 25%+ of our circulation and deserve plenty of space. We created new genre collections – Classics, which pulled all those books that high school students have to read into one area. That convinced us to buy new copies of many of the titles, since they were visible and concentrated. We split SF and Fantasy, we broke the graphic novels into adult and teen, since many items are written for one but not the other. We broke out Christian Fiction, which increased its use and helped readers identify new authors to read. Once you get going, you start to work to create browsing areas wherever you can. For example, our magazines are arranged by subject to facilitate browsing. This works in a public library because our research magazine collections are on-line. We still have stacks and plan to keep them. Displaying A-T of Sue Grafton would diminish their impact, since only the most recent in the series get enough use to justify displaying it. Similarly, our regular patrons have seen all our quilt/fishing/movie/whatever books, so we want to make sure they see the new ones. We still need to be able to find all the German cookbooks, all Stephanie Plum, all of whatever our patrons need.
Critical Mass is the key concept to understanding what we are doing.. A large enough collection to reward repeat attention from a browser – which makes the area a destination. If you read historical mysteries or legal thrillers or spy stories and you scan the right collection on a regular basis, you will see every new book we order in your reading interest before it gets moved to the stacks. Coherent collections – so that everything in the THRILLER area is similar enough so that a patron is likely to find a satisfactory book easily. Popular enough to draw attention. Domestic fiction wasn’t coherent enough, literature and world authors weren’t popular enough. New materials – so that patrons are always seeing something new. We do not try to display all our books. We don’t do seasonal or temporary topical displays Move ‘em out – once they are past their peak, move them to the stacks. The goal isn’t to display the maximum number of books, but to display the ones that patrons are most likely to pick up.
Browsing in an area with plenty of room and new books broken into areas that match your chosen reading interests, even if you aren’t clear about what that is. Sounds pretty good. Wish I could find a clothing store like that. For most readers, a better browsing experience is better service period. Many patrons don’t use the catalog to identify new books, especially fiction. This save the reader’s time. It also serves as an structural form of reader’s advisory. You can train all your staff in discerning reading interests and keep them aware of each new title – God bless you if you can. You can provide RA tools for the patrons, but they are unlikely to use them. But good displays lead patrons from books they liked to similar books without staff involvement, with the power and choice in the patron’s hands. It can also lead them from one kind of thriller to another, or from police procedurals to PI stories. Like a visual see also on the shelves. Once patrons find a new author in a display collection, it is up to the library to supply an author’s earlier titles, so it can lead patrons to where the rest of a series lives.
Displays also benefit the library staff. Each book purchased gets a fair shot at developing a readership, displayed in a high traffic area with similar books where patrons are browsing for that particular kind of material. If a book can’t make it there, it can’t make it anywhere. So…It become easier to identify a book with no local readers, vs. one with only a few vs. one with a whole bunch of them. Even if you have plenty of money and space, books with limited number of local readers should exist mainly in the remote, shared collection. After 12 months of display, it is possible to weed an almost new book, since moving it to the stacks would be a waste of time. It is also possible to know that you will certainly be buying the next book in a series. Displays also take surprisingly little space, since so much of the material is checked out. A collections of 300 books can fit comfortably in one unit (three shelves), because 50-70% of it is checked out. I love remote access. About 10% of McMillan's circulation comes from on-line renewals. But we also like to reward and build community. Displays reward those who visit the library regularly and who take the time to browse instead of running in and picking up their holds, then running out.
It took us about a decade, but we came to see ourselves as a branch library – a fairly large, very remote one, but a branch. This was not financial, governance, policies, but collection. Our display collections became a small interior branch. Our new fiction area is as busy as some small libraries in our system. Our AV area is definitely as busy as a small library (over 200,000). The stacks became a publicly accessible storage area. It’s where we keep books that are used occasionally, but not frequently. The narrow aisles and use of Dewey is appropriate for such storage. The shared collection (three million items and counting) is remote storage. Items we might need once a year or never. Items we choose not to buy, but that might have a small (1-2 person) local audience. This was part of a move from a just in case collection to a just in time collection. When libraries were bibliographic islands, it made sense to keep items that didn’t go out often because ILL was so difficult and time consuming. We can now access 3,000,000 items within 2-3 days, so keeping older travel or health books just doesn’t make sense. The long tail lives in our cloud collection. This doesn’t let a library off the hook. A good library and a good branch meets as much of its local needs as possible. McMillan achieves an 80/20 ratio. 80% of our circulation comes from our shelves, with the other 20% coming from the shared collection. This might sound like a lot from the shared collection, but it is one of the lowest numbers in our system. Our actual ILLs amounted to less than .2% of our circulation. We borrowed 110,000 from the shared collection and 611 using traditional ILL, which we now call OLL.
We don’t use a bookstore metaphor often but if McMillan were a bookstore, only the new materials and the AV collection would be like a Borders or Barnes & Nobles. The stacks more closely resemble a used bookstore. Most of the items there can be purchased on Amazon for $.01 + shipping. The shared or “cloud” collection is like Amazon. Available in a few days. The home of the long tail. Rare, older and unusual items. All the things you can’t find in a standard new bookstore. Libraries do not handle best selling books/AV that well. No way they can match the availability of WalMart / box store.
We started with our displays in stack like rows, but soon moved to L shaped areas. This gave the browsers room, let them be surrounded by books. It also created a room-like atmosphere and a sense of privacy. Not like stacks, which are more storage and industrial feeling. It helps to have seating and tables nearby or integrated into the display area. It makes the area “stickier” and patrons will stay there longer. We often move one copy of a bestseller to the stacks and leave others in the display collections. It sits while the display copies go out. When we move the last display copy out, use drops significantly. Stacks really are a form of remote storage in a display oriented library. We only rarely keep two copies of any book in the stacks. Though we never use bottom shelves, we do drop the top shelf slightly, so that there is a 1/3 shelf on top and another2/3 shelf on the bottom. That way we are never even tempted to use shelves our patrons won’t use.
Weed thoroughly. Make use of the gift that displays provide and don’t move a title with no local readers to the stacks. Orphans (books by authors that either don’t publish a second title or whose additional works you aren’t buying) need to be examined closely. Displays work differently for non-fiction. There is less emphasis on newness. After all, a three year old book on installing ceramic tile is still as good as new. Non-fiction readers are not as reliable in their subjects as genre readers. We liked the results enough to move our magazines to subject arrangement to facilitate browsing. Previously they were in alphabetical order with a printed subject list that even staff didn’t use. Trust your shared collection to provide the long tail that you probably don’t have room for. This is a hard one. In all of this, where you are heading is more important than the speed at which you are traveling. Get started, build on successes, learn from mistakes. The only thing that needs to change quickly is your mindset. Once you decide to move to maximize displays, you are turning the ship. How long it takes to get to a new course matters less than that you are making a course correction.
It took us a long time to work out what were appropriate collections. Some we tried did not have enough new material to attain critical mass (we tried Chick Lit). Similarly Horror was just too small. Some collections just didn’t click with the public, not because the books were unpopular, but because it was hard to define the collection. We tried various names for domestic fiction / family stories, but in the end decided that these did best as just fiction. Then there were collections that no one wanted to read. We tried Literature (including short stories, poetry and even some NF), but no one cared. We tried World Literature / Foreign Authors, but there just isn’t a local audience for that. When we remodeled our Lower Level, we put our new shiny display units holding our DVDs and other AV in rather conventional aisles. Waking up to the fact that 30%+ of our circulation was from a rather small area, we widened the aisles to 75 inches. Considering the amount of traffic the area gets, that is not too much. In our new configuration, that area will be next to our entrance, so it will be the first things patrons see. We want it to look spacious and open, not cramped and crowded. We haven’t yet made a serious attempt to bring the Children’s Room into the 21 st Century. A different part of BISAC and a wide range of age groups. It will be harder to fit within existing system-wide structure, so we will probably have to develop some of this in committee rather than on the floor. Children’s books are also harder to display, since they vary so widely in size. Still, this is a question of when, not if.
If you want to get started, there are ways to get underway without lots of expense or disruption. Wall units often have browsing space around them. They are also easy to properly sign. The outside edge of stacks are also an area with adequate browsing space and again, they are easy to put signs on and have patrons see them. Display shelving comes in two kinds. Inexpensive (which often looks inexpensive and can be a little lightweight) or expensive. Even the expensive isn’t always up to the task. Slanted shelving puts pressure on the backing, which is not the case with upright shelving. In general, the market is still developing library style display shelving, as opposed to video store units. Even with upright shelving, you can create C or L shaped areas or cul de sacs, always keeping the fire regulations and building codes in mind.
PLA has also keeps handouts from earlier conferences at http://www.placonference.org/2008/handoutspage.cfm and http://www.placonference.org/2006/handouts_audiotapes.cfm
Dewey and BISAC : A Middle Path to Developing a Display Oriented Library
Dewey and BISAC A Middle Path to Developing a Display Oriented Library Andy Barnett McMillan Memorial Library 490 East Grand Ave. Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin [email_address]
Our Situation in 2005 <ul><li>Budget crunch - Industry layoffs, city-wide cuts on horizon, static population / tax base </li></ul><ul><li>Library - 1970 building, with room to expand internally </li></ul><ul><li>Advantages – Strong sense of mission, shared system, support of local foundations, library endowment </li></ul>
Excellence on a Budget <ul><li>Long range plan - community survey, focus groups, staff and board retreats </li></ul><ul><li>Consultation with architect </li></ul><ul><li>Best practices & PLA Conferences </li></ul><ul><li>Mantras: </li></ul><ul><li>Leading edge of what has been proven </li></ul><ul><li>Adapt not adopt </li></ul>
Role Models <ul><li>Richmond (B.C.) Public Library – Power shelving </li></ul><ul><li>Retail and Hospitality leaders </li></ul><ul><li>Bookstores not good models </li></ul><ul><li>Marketing guru Paco Underhill </li></ul><ul><li>Third place </li></ul>
2 ½ Strategies <ul><li>A three zone library including a Community Commons </li></ul><ul><li>Maximize self-service options when consistent with quality service </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Display oriented library </li></ul></ul>
Display Oriented Library <ul><li>Implementation will vary depending upon size and type of library. </li></ul><ul><li>Display / merchandise as much as possible, focusing on new materials and AV </li></ul><ul><li>Genre / BISAC subject collections </li></ul><ul><li>Browsing areas not shelving units </li></ul>
Size Matters <ul><li>In smaller libraries, entire collection can be displayed </li></ul><ul><li>In larger libraries, only a small portion of the collection can be displayed </li></ul><ul><li>At McMillan, 20% of fiction is on display and 30% is in genre collections. 15% of Non-Fiction is displayed. </li></ul>
Why New Materials/AV? <ul><li>Don’t they go out anyway? </li></ul><ul><li>Already a high traffic area </li></ul><ul><li>Busy optimal </li></ul><ul><li>Easy metric </li></ul><ul><li>Bite size </li></ul><ul><li>Incremental and evolutionary </li></ul>
Genre / BISAC Collections <ul><li>New Adult books go into display collections </li></ul><ul><li>12 Fic genres and 17 BISAC NF categories </li></ul><ul><li>After ~a year, items age into stacks </li></ul><ul><li>Temporary stickers (collection and date) </li></ul><ul><li>Display shelving and space </li></ul>
Browsing Areas vs. Stacks <ul><li>More room = more circulation </li></ul><ul><li>Stack aisle = one person </li></ul><ul><li>A destination </li></ul><ul><li>Permanent collection with dynamic content </li></ul><ul><li>Displays and permanent genre collections </li></ul><ul><li>YA = browsing collection, not a clubhouse </li></ul>
Our Gradual Implementation <ul><li>Display shelving for New Book area </li></ul><ul><li>Genre / subject collections of New Books </li></ul><ul><li>Display shelving for AV </li></ul><ul><li>Additional permanent genre collections </li></ul><ul><li>Creating display areas wherever possible </li></ul><ul><li>We still have stacks </li></ul>
Critical Mass <ul><li>Enough items to reward repeat attention from a browser </li></ul><ul><li>Coherent and popular </li></ul><ul><li>A constant stream of new materials </li></ul><ul><li>After local browsers have seen, move them out </li></ul>
Benefits to Readers <ul><li>Simplest, easiest, most successful experience – Each reader, their book </li></ul><ul><li>Better service = better browsing </li></ul><ul><li>Displays lead readers to new authors and genres </li></ul><ul><li>New authors lead readers to older titles </li></ul>
Benefits to Library <ul><li>All authors/books get a chance at maximum display - Each book, its reader </li></ul><ul><li>Provides selection / weeding data </li></ul><ul><li>50%+ of displays checked out </li></ul><ul><li>Displays lead readers to stacks </li></ul><ul><li>Rewards patrons who visit library </li></ul>
Embracing Branch Library Status <ul><li>As part of a shared system, McMillan is a branch of a large virtual library </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Display collections an interior branch </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Stacks are local storage </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Shared collection is remote storage </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Just in case vs. just in time </li></ul><ul><li>Being the best branch </li></ul>
If we were a bookstore… <ul><li>Our new books and AV = bookstore </li></ul><ul><li>Stacks = used bookstore </li></ul><ul><li>Shared collection = Amazon </li></ul><ul><li>Bestsellers are where it breaks down </li></ul>
Lessons Learned <ul><li>Display units don’t belong in aisles </li></ul><ul><li>Maximize books patron can see at once </li></ul><ul><li>Browsing areas – open, room-like </li></ul><ul><li>Seating and tables in display areas </li></ul><ul><li>Stacks - where books go to die </li></ul><ul><li>Never use bottom shelves – anywhere </li></ul>
Lessons Learned (cont.) <ul><li>Weed thoroughly – you can’t market what people don’t want </li></ul><ul><li>Fiction ≠ Non-Fiction </li></ul><ul><li>Magazines a browsing collection </li></ul><ul><li>We are all branch libraries now </li></ul><ul><li>Direction of change > speed of change </li></ul>
Things we did wrong <ul><li>Collections without critical mass </li></ul><ul><li>AV Display Aisles - now six feet wide </li></ul><ul><li>Children’s a tougher nut to crack </li></ul>
Getting started <ul><li>Wall units </li></ul><ul><li>Outside edges of stacks – x2 factor </li></ul><ul><li>Display shelving – expensive and not always ready for prime time </li></ul><ul><li>Cul de sacs, C or L shaped areas </li></ul>
New Non-Fiction Collections <ul><li>Hot Topics </li></ul><ul><li>Pop Culture </li></ul><ul><li>Food & Celebrations </li></ul><ul><li>Health & Fitness </li></ul><ul><li>Self-Help & Psychology </li></ul><ul><li>Art & Art Instruction </li></ul><ul><li>Crafts </li></ul><ul><li>Around the House </li></ul><ul><li>Sports & Recreation </li></ul><ul><li>Memoirs & Autobiography </li></ul><ul><li>Biography </li></ul><ul><li>General History </li></ul><ul><li>20 th Century History </li></ul><ul><li>Travel & the World </li></ul><ul><li>Science & Nature </li></ul><ul><li>Religion & Spirituality </li></ul><ul><li>Finance & Business </li></ul>
Recommended Reading/Viewing <ul><li>Civic librarianship : renewing the social mission of the public library by Ronald B. McCabe. </li></ul><ul><li>Libraries, community, and technology by Andy Barnett. </li></ul><ul><li>Why we buy : the science of shopping by Paco Underhill. </li></ul><ul><li>The call of the mall by Paco Underhill. </li></ul><ul><li>Inevitable surprises : thinking ahead in a time of turbulence by Peter Schwartz </li></ul><ul><li>Richmond Public Library (B.C.) presentations </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The Public Library of the Future Today (2004) - http:// www.yourlibrary.ca/presentation/frame.htm </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Good to Great (2006) - http:// www.yourlibrary.ca/GoodToGreat.pdf </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Creating Excellence (2004) - http:// www.yourlibrary.ca/CreatingExcellence.pdf </li></ul></ul><ul><li>McMillan Memorial Library tour - http://www.mcmillanlibrary.org/library/tour.html </li></ul><ul><li>The Library Commons by Ron McCabe. Voya, October 2009, p. 296-7 </li></ul><ul><li>Doing More with Less: the McMillan Experience (updated 2009) </li></ul><ul><li>PLA Handouts http://www.placonference.org/session_handouts.cfm </li></ul>