Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

If You Buy It, Will It Circ? In Defense of Visual Merchandising and Why Public Libraries Should Do More of It

Straight out of college, where she majored in art, one of my best friend’s first job was as a merchandiser at Arhaus. She spent her days setting up displays, designing the flow of traffic through the store, and helping the store to sell merchandise. Her job was to set up the store in appealing and artistic ways that would get customers to buy the merchandise and they knew what they were doing when they trained her. Around that same time The Mr., also an art major, started going through management training at Kroger. Part of this training was in the fine art of merchandising. Although customers don’t think a lot about it when they walk through the store, stores are spending a lot of time, money and attention to detail to help make sure that we, the customer, spend as much money as possible before we walk out their doors. There is a science to why milk is placed where it’s placed and public libraries could learn a lot from the retail world.

Have you bought or sold a house lately? I was stunned when a friend was selling her house to learn that she had to put half of her life into boxes in storage. Her real estate agent then schooled her in the fine art of staging. This is when realtors set up houses to make them inviting and help them sell. Good real estate agents are also very much in the business and science of set up, display and design. We could learn a lot from them as well.

DhGtip2W4AEfUfY

The thing is, there is a lot of information out there about how to get customers buying merchandise, so why aren’t libraries using it? It’s true, we are a nonprofit community service based entity and we don’t talk about selling our merchandise, but we do want to be in the business of moving merchandise. In fact, it’s one of the most important things we do and one of the primary ways we measure our success: getting patrons to check out our materials. In fact, we spend so much time measuring and wringing our hands over circulation statistics, an issue I discuss here, and yet we spend so little time discussing better ways to help make that happen. Buying the right materials is only the most basic building blocks, it’s what we do with it next that helps get those materials circulating.

If you buy the right materials, we argue, our circulation statistics will be good. But just having an item on a shelf isn’t enough. And have you looked at our shelves lately (and yes, I know, not all shelves)? They are often too full, too overwhelming, and they don’t promote effective browsing. Sometimes, putting an item in our collection is the surest way to make sure that it gets lost.

Visual Merchandising – Applying Bookstore Insights to Public Library Collections

Have you ever worked retail? One of our daily tasks when I was a teenager working retail was to walk through my department hourly to fluff shelves, fill display holes, and face out merchandise. This was non-negotiable and clearly understood to be an important part of my job. And I was trained how to do it and given clear expectations. Retail stores do not come to play when it comes to merchandising, and libraries shouldn’t either.

display1

YA Displays and Merchandising 2017

All of this falls under the heading of merchandising. Many people use the terms marketing and merchandising in tandem, and in ways they are two parts of the same whole. They both share the same goals: to get people using or buying your produce or services. In the world of librarianship, merchandising is our attempt to get people checking out our items. Merchandising is whatever you do to help move merchandise inside your store, or in this case, inside the library. Putting up displays is merchandising. Facing out book titles is merchandising. The colors you choose, the locations you choose, and the products you put on display are all merchandising. You can find a very basic discussion of merchandising at Shopify.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way here: I am no merchandising expert. I am a librarian. And if I have learned one thing about librarianship, it is that it often requires me to become a quasi expert at a wide range of things. And in the course of my career, one of those things has been both marketing and merchandising. In my training and study of merchandising, it has been mind blowing to learn how much research is done and how much the retail world knows about merchandising, down to things like color science and traffic patterns and location, location, location. The science is out there, already done for us, so let’s use our research skills to find and implement them in our libraries.

One of the Tween's bookshelves of honor.

Trading Spaces: New Jersey Library Association

I’ve been thinking about merchandising a lot. I even tweeted last week that I thought one of the things that public libraries should do is to invite merchandising experts from local businesses to come in and do staff training. I think all staff should be trained in the fine art of merchandising; I think all staff should be given directives that involve staff training; and I think that all staff should be held accountable for merchandising. We should train our staff and make sure that they walk through the library several times a day to straighten the books on shelves, to fill display holes, and to make sure we have titles facing out. It’s what they do in retail business for a reason: it works.

DhGtip0WsAEBdHH

Just a few of the tips that I would suggest include:

1. Just Right Shelf Sizes and Face Out Titles

Weed, weed, weed so that your shelves are no more than half  to two-thirds full. At the end of each shelf that is at eye level, pull a book from that shelf and put it on face out display. Publishers put a lot of research into book covers, so let’s use what they know and do and use those book coves to get books circulating.

2. Contrasting Colors

When doing a display, unless you are doing a color specific display, put books with contrasting colors next to each other. For example, put a book with an orange cover on display next to a book with a blue cover. The contrast helps patrons visually distinguish between the books. This is harder said then done because a large number of books have black or blue covers. Visual artists know how to use color and contrast to draw the eye in and make it focus on what they want the eye to focus on; people who do graphic design do this as well. Let’s learn what we can from graphic designers, visual artists and visual merchandisers to create face out displays that will get books into the hands of our patrons.

3. The Book’s the Thing

Put the emphasis on the books as opposed to the display embellishments. You want to make it easy for the patrons to take a book off of a shelf or display and not feel like they are messing up someone’s time and efforts. In fact, if you can, include verbiage on your signage that lets patrons know that yes, these books are available to check out!

4. Rotate

Rotate displays and face out titles every 2 to 4 weeks. With displays and face out titles, we’re encouraging our patrons to check out materials via browsing, so it’s important that they always have something new to see. If you put a title on display and it doesn’t move, re-shelve it and give another title a chance.

5. Straighten

Make it a part of your daily practice to walk the library, or whatever your designated part of the library is, and keep things neat and straight. We’re all supposed to take 10,000 steps a day for health, so we might as well straighten while we’re doing it, right? Make it a part of every single person’s daily practice to merchandise the library and straighten the shelves.

There are so many other tips that are floating into my head now as I type this. We want to have balance, which is hard to achieve. A too full display and a too empty display both discourage browsing. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you want your display or shelves to be JUST RIGHT, but knowing what that looks like and how to achieve it is tricky business. And in all honesty, even with all the science and research, not everyone agrees, there are some best practices.

Here is some interesting research to help get us all started thinking about merchandising:

Retail Merchandising: Set Up Your Store for Retail Success

Visual Merchandising 101

Anything Libraries Visual Merchandising

6 Visual Merchandising Tricks to Boost Your Sales

10 Unique Visual Merchandising Tricks You Should Steal

I know that not every library out there is struggling with the concept of merchandising, so share your tips and tricks with us below in the comments. But if you are one of the many libraries that are, maybe contact some local businesses and ask them to do some training and help your staff establish some best practices.

Celebrate Eisner Week With Diverse Graphic Novels

March 1-7 is Will Eisner Week. This week is held to “celebrate graphic novels, sequential art, free speech, and the amazing legacy of Will Eisner, one of the most innovative figures in the history of comics and graphic novels.” Check out the website for more information about how to celebrate the week, as well information about Eisner’s work and the Eisner Awards.

 

Eisner Week seems like a great time to feature some excellent graphic novels and comics. Building diverse collections and focusing on diverse displays in your library? Don’t forget graphic novels! These titles feature characters, authors, and illustrators from many places, with varied backgrounds, identities, and abilities.

 

Here are a few picks, both old and new, to get your display started. Summaries via the publisher or WorldCat. Have more titles to add? Leave us a comment or tweet us at @TLT16 or @CiteSomething

 

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew (2014)

In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity: the Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero. The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but Gene Luen Yang has revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

 

War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance (2013)

Jacob is a 14-year-old Ugandan who is sent away to a boys’ school. Once there, he assures his friend Tony that they need not be afraid — they will be safe. But not long after, in the shadow of the night, the boys are abducted. Marched into the jungle, they are brought to an encampment of the feared rebel soldiers. They are told they must kill or be killed, and their world turns into a terrifying struggle to endure and survive

 

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (2012)

Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it’s time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn’t one of her brothers.

 

Part-Time Princesses by Monica Gallagher (March 11, 2015)

Beautiful, popular, and adored by all, Courtney, Amber, Tiffany, and Michelle can’t wait to graduate and take their place among the world’s elite. But when all their future plans are ruined, the girls have only one back-up plan – working as costumed princesses at the local amusement park. Unfortunately, increased gang activity has driven away all but the most loyal of customers. With the park on the verge of closing, the girls resolve to fight back, bring back their adoring customers, save the amusement park they never wanted to work at, and maybe learn something about themselves along the way.

 

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached (2012)

When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it’s just a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two, separated by bricks and sandbags and threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina’s parents don’t return one afternoon from a visit to the other half of the city and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for Zeina and her brother where it’s comfy and safe, where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Together they try to make it through a dramatic day in the one place they hoped they would always be safe—home.

 

I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached (2014)

Abirached was born in Lebanon in 1981. She grew up in Beirut as fighting between Christians and Muslims divided the city streets. Follow her past cars riddled with bullet holes, into taxi cabs that travel where buses refuse to go, and on outings to collect shrapnel from the sidewalk. With striking black-and-white artwork, Abirached recalls the details of ordinary life inside a war zone.

 

Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (2014)

Growing up, Liz Prince wasn’t a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing Pretty Pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn’t exactly one of the guys either, as she quickly learned when her Little League baseball coach exiled her to the outfield instead of letting her take the pitcher’s mound. Liz was somewhere in the middle, and Tomboy is the story of her struggle to find the place where she belonged.

Tomboy is a graphic novel about refusing gender boundaries, yet unwittingly embracing gender stereotypes at the same time, and realizing later in life that you can be just as much of a girl in jeans and a T-shirt as you can in a pink tutu. A memoir told anecdotally, Tomboy follows author and zine artist Liz Prince through her early childhood into adulthood and explores her ever-evolving struggles and wishes regarding what it means to “be a girl.”

 

 

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (2011)

Anya, embarrassed by her Russian immigrant family and self-conscious about her body, has given up on fitting in at school but falling down a well and making friends with the ghost there just may be worse.

 

The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim (2009)

Presents three short stories in graphic novel format involving the blurred line between fantasy and reality, including an office assistant who falls for an e-mail scam, and a young knight whose life is not what it seems.

 

 

March by  John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (artist) (2013)

This graphic novel is a first-hand account of Congressman John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book one spans Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. HIs commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington D.C., and from receiving beatings from state troopers, to receiving the Medal of Freedom awarded to him by Barack Obama, the first African-American president.

 

 

The Zabime Sisters by Aristophane and Matt Madden (Translator) (2010)

On the first day of summer vacation, teenaged sisters M’Rose, Elle, and Célina step out into the tropical heat of their island home and continue their headlong tumble toward adulthood. Boys, schoolyard fights, petty thievery, and even illicit alcohol make for a heady mix, as The Zabime Sisters indulge in a little summertime freedom. The dramatic backdrop of a Caribbean island provides a study of contrasts—a world that is both lush and wild, yet strangely small and intimate—which echoes the contrasts of the sisters themselves, who are at once worldly and wonderfully naïve.

 

The Sons of Liberty by Alexander Lagos, Joseph Lagos, Steve Walker (Illustrator), Oren Kramek (Illustrator)

Visual and visceral, fusing historical fiction and superhero action, this is a tale with broad appeal-for younger readers who enjoy an exciting war story, for teenagers asking hard questions about American history, for adult fans of comic books, for anyone seeking stories of African American interest, and for reluctant readers young and old.

In Colonial America, Graham and Brody are slaves on the run-until they gain extraordinary powers. At first they keep a low profile. But their mentor has another idea-one that involves the African martial art dambe . . . and masks.

With its vile villains, electrifying action, and riveting suspense, The Sons of Liberty casts new light on the faces and events of pre-Revolution America, including Ben Franklin and the French and Indian War. American history has rarely been this compelling-and it’s never looked this good.

 

 

Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013 by Trina Robbins (2013)

A revised, updated and rewritten history of women cartoonists, with more color illustrations than ever before, and with some startling new discoveries (such as a Native American woman cartoonist from the 1940s who was also a Corporal in the women’s army, and the revelation that a cartoonist included in all of Robbins’s previous histories was a man!)  Although the comics profession was dominated by men, there were far more women working in the profession throughout the 20th century than other histories indicate, and they have flourished in the 21st. Robbins not only documents the increasing relevance of women throughout the 20th century, with mainstream creators such as Ramona Fradon and Dale Messick and alternative cartoonists such as Lynda Barry, Carol Tyler, and Phoebe Gloeckner, but the latest generation of women cartoonists—Megan Kelso, Cathy Malkasian, Linda Medley, and Lilli Carré, among many others.

 

 

 Strong Female Protagonist Book One by Molly Ostertag (Artist) and Brennan Lee Mulligan (2014)

With superstrength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around. Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter ego Mega Girl was fun – until an encounter with Menace, her mind-reading arch enemy, showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn’t seem so important. Now Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to help the world while still getting to class on time. It’s impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero.

 

 

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2007)

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming—both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

 

 

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012)

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier! Following the success of SMILE, Raina Telgemeier brings us another graphic novel featuring a diverse set of characters that humorously explores friendship, crushes, and all-around drama!

 

 

Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona (Illustrator) (2014)

Marvel Comics presents the all-new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin’ for you, New York!

 

 

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (2010)

Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing shedoes want: to fight dragons!

Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it!

 

 

Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez (2013)

Middle child Huey stages Captain America plays and treasures his older brother’s comic book collection almost as much as his approval. Marble Season subtly and deftly details how the innocent, joyfully creative play that children engage in (shooting marbles, backyard performances, and organizing treasure hunts) changes as they grow older and encounter name-calling naysayers, abusive bullies, and the value judgments of other kids. An all-ages story, Marble Season masterfully explores the redemptive and timeless power of storytelling and role play in childhood, making it a coming-of-age story that is as resonant with the children of today as with the children of the sixties.

 

Kampung Boy by Lat (2006)

Kampung Boy is a favorite of millions of readers in Southeast Asia. With masterful economy worthy of Charles Schultz, Lat recounts the life of Mat, a Muslim boy growing up in rural Malaysia in the 1950s: his adventures and mischief-making, fishing trips, religious study, and work on his family’s rubber plantation. Meanwhile, the traditional way of life in his village (or kampung) is steadily disappearing, with tin mines and factory jobs gradually replacing family farms and rubber small-holders. When Mat himself leaves for boarding school, he can only hope that his familiar kampung will still be there when he returns. Kampung Boy is hilarious and affectionate, with brilliant, super-expressive artwork that opens a window into a world that has now nearly vanished.

 

Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Stassen, Jean-Philippe Stassen (Illustrator), Alexis Siegel (Translator) (2006)

The 2000 winner of the Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script, this is the harrowing tale of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, as seen through the eyes of a boy named Deogratias. He is an ordinary teenager, in love with a girl named Bénigne, but Deogratias is a Hutu and Bénigne is a Tutsi who dies in the genocide, and Deogratias himself plays a part in her death. As the story circles around but never depicts the terror and brutality of an entire country descending into violence, we watch Deogratias in his pursuit of Bénigne, and we see his grief and descent into madness following her death, as he comes to believe he is a dog.

Told with great artistry and intelligence, this book offers a window into a dark chapter of recent human history and exposes the West’s role in the tragedy. Stassen’s interweaving of the aftermath of the genocide and the events leading up to it heightens the impact of the horror, giving powerful expression to the unspeakable, indescribable experience of ordinary Hutus caught up in the violence. Difficult, beautiful, honest, and heartbreaking, this is a major work by a masterful artist.

 

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie, Helge Dascher (Translator) (2012)

Ivory Coast, 1978. It’s a golden time, and the nation, too—an oasis of affluence and stability in West Africa—seems fueled by something wondrous. Aya is loosely based upon Marguerite Abouet’s youth in Yop City. It is the story of the studious and clear-sighted nineteen-year-old Aya, her easygoing friends Adjoua and Bintou, and their meddling relatives and neighbors. It’s a wryly funny, breezy account of the simple pleasures and private troubles of everyday life in Yop City.

 

Foiled by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro (2010)

Aliera Carstairs just doesn’t fit in. She’s always front and center at the fencing studio, but at school she’s invisible. And she’s fine with that . . . until Avery Castle walks into her first period biology class. Avery may seem perfect now, but will he end up becoming her Prince Charming or just a toad?

 

A + E 4ever by Ilike Merey (2011)

Asher Machnik is a teenage boy cursed with a beautiful androgynous face. Guys punch him, girls slag him and by high school he’s developed an intense fear of being touched. Art remains his only escape from an otherwise emotionally empty life. Eulalie Mason is the lonely, tough-talking dyke from school who befriends Ash. The only one to see and accept all of his sides as a loner, a fellow artist and a best friend, she’s starting to wonder if ash is ever going to see all of her…. a + e 4EVER is a graphic novel set in that ambiguous crossroads where love and friendship, boy and girl, straight and gay meet. It goes where few books have ventured, into genderqueer life, where affections aren’t black and white.

 

If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.