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What Are You Reading?: Organizing Inter-Campus Book Displays

February 6, 2020

Books displays are hard. Even with an investment in fancy shelves or display cases, getting students, faculty, and staff to pause and pick up books from a display table as they’re on their way to class or tutoring is a challenge. Though we switch out displays weekly and link the content or theme of each table to something going on in the larger campus community or in the world, browsing of these displays rarely happens. 

Conversely, if we think about how books are displayed in bookstores, we see a lot more engagement. People pick books up and read the back covers or inside of the jacket. Granted, they are there because it’s a bookstore and they want to browse or purchase a book, but something about that particular table and that particular book has caught their eye. What can libraries do differently to get this type of reaction from our displays? 

If you’re like me, one of the places you check out when first walking into any bookstore is the staff recommendations shelf. There is always something surprising on the shelf; always a title I’ve never heard of and want to pick up and take a closer look at. I also know from working in a bookstore that staff really enjoy coming up with suggestions and sharing their favorite titles with patrons. We took this idea and ran with it on our campus, and we’ve gotten some good results! 

One of our librarians contacted different units on campus (admissions, athletics, student affairs, etc.) and asked them to submit the titles of their favorite books. Once enough titles were received from individuals in each department, we gathered multiple copies of each title, sometimes in different formats, and put them on a display with digital signage making clear which department on campus recommended these titles. Once on display, an email was sent to that department inviting them to come and see their display. Individuals also get a bit of library swag when they come over, as a thank you for participating. 

This may seem like a simple idea, but it’s gotten engagement from members of the departments who submit their titles, other faculty and staff who are interested in what their colleagues are reading, and even a few students who pick up the books on display. I also think it’s also helpful that there are multiple copies of each title on the table. Just like the last piece of cake, no one wants to take the single copy of a book on display. I’m sure there is some psychological theory that explains why that is, but in the meantime, I’ll just be happy that our display tables are getting more traction! 

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