Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Rethinking Book Displays – Again

Display Coffin

I am very lucky in that I have two very artistic assistants who do displays for our teens. After 20some years doing displays, I was getting kind of burned out and to be honest, I wasn’t awesome at it. But my assistants are, so it was a task I was happy to delegate. We would work together to come up with themes and I would put together book lists, but my assistants did all the artwork. It was win-win and a great team effort. We were all proud of the displays we were doing. I mean, look at these awesome displays . . .

Display Teen Videogaming Display Once Upon a Crime display6 Display Stranger Thingsdisplay5

My assistants put together elaborate and artistic displays that often involved custom made letters, artwork and a lot of bling. They were amazing to look at. The only problem is, they weren’t doing what we needed them to do: nobody was checking the books off of the displays. We were doing displays to help get teens reading and books circulating, but the books were sitting there on the displays without being checked out. This became a concern. So we put our heads together and started asking what we could or needed to do differently.

After a lot of discussion, we decided that maybe it was because our displays were too good. That sounds like a weird thing to say, but think of what happens when you visit an art museum. You are taught to stand back and look at the artwork from a distance with admiration and respect. Look, but don’t touch. So we wondered if maybe patrons weren’t viewing our book displays in the same way that you might view art at an art museum: look, but don’t touch.

So we began a series of experiments. First, we pared down the amount of bling we had on our display, but still had a colorful background. We wanted to still have colorful, eye catching displays but didn’t want to intimidate our patrons and make them think that they couldn’t walk up to the display and check out a book. And thus our experiment began . . .

display3 display4Display Social Justice

This still didn’t create the result we wanted. One or two books would circulate, but on the whole our displays still weren’t moving books the way we wanted them to.

So then we decided to pare down our display to the very basics and put the emphasis on the books. We went with bare walls, a simple sign and books galore. When possible, we would include interactive elements, such as this what YA would you like to see on Netflix display where we invited teens to participate and share their thoughts with us. Or we are including buttons like the display below that has an “I Read Past My Bedtime” button to take when checking out a book from our Read Past Your Bedtime display. We even include signage that says things like, yes please check these books out and read them.

display2 display1

At this bare minimum, we discovered that yes, the books were being circulated off of the displays more. In fact, in the Netflix themed display you see above, we filled more holes than we ever have on one of our YA displays. This made us very happy; our goal is, after all, to get books into the hands of readers.

We are going to be continuing this experiment for a while as we try to determine how best to utilize our display space to increase circulation and get YA books into the hands of teen readers. Let us know below by leaving a comment what you’re doing with your display spaces and what you have found to be the most effective ways to get books circulating off of a display.


  1. linda salzman says

    The eye-catching, artistic displays are fantastic. I, too, have had the impulse not to ruin them/ dismantle them by taking a book away. A possible solution is to have a small cart nearby with second copies and other books that fit the theme. A sign between display and cart could say, “Please take a book from the display. Choose another book from the cart to fill the empty space.” In this way, the display becomes more interactive, readers are less intimidated to touch, and they get to help shape the display in a small way, too.

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