Evanston, I Love You, But You Are Weird

September 11, 2019

Let me be clear that prior to taking my current position as the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library, my primary experience was in purchasing children’s literature. Evanston has provided a learning curve these last four years, and I believe that at this point I have a pretty clear sense of what the city does and does not like to read. Because I moved here from Manhattan, it is difficult to compare the reading habits of the city to any other location. And yet I believe I can say, with utmost sincerity and solemnity, that Evanston, Illinois has some very odd reading habits.

Very odd.

First off, let us consider the most popular display I ever created. If you enter the library you will often find a number of thematic displays situated on the first and second floor. I believe that at this moment in time there is a display of science for laymen, of pirates, and of newspaper heroes. Thinking up these displays can prove a challenge, but there’s always something new to try. So what, you may ask, was the most popular display I ever made? There is no question in my mind. The topic:


I kid you not. Books about grammar. I literally could not keep that display filled. There were the usual suspects like Eats, Shoots & Leaves, and then there were more obscure books with names like Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters and How Language Began: The Story of Humanity’s Greatest Invention. Such books as these are catnip to this town. I can only assume that the new book I just purchased, Have You Eaten Grandma?: Or, the Life-Saving Importance of Correct Punctuation, Grammar, and Good English by Gyles Brandreth is destined to become a hit as well.

But even more interesting than what Evanstonians borrow is what they steal. Like any public library, we have to deal with theft. An expensive prospect, much of my time is spent re-ordering those books that light fingers have slipped from our stacks. Most thefts are easy to predict. Name the popular book or movie/TV series and you’ll inevitably see copies marked as “Missing” in our records. But recently I stumbled upon a massive number of missing items on a single, specific topic. I was pulling books for a display on the first floor when I noticed that 1 . . . 2 . . . 27 books were missing. What was this enticing topic that was walking out our doors never to be seen again?

Food memoirs.

I kid you not. Someone has been stealing food memoirs from the library. 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die? Gone. The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion? Gone. Letters to a Young Chef? Gone gone gone.

All this has led me to one final and inescapable conclusion. Evanston, you are a city of nerds. And I, your nerdy Materials Specialist, will do what I can to meet your wonderful, strange, odd little needs.

The Art of the Display

December 6, 2018

What criteria should a librarian use to determine how successful a library display truly is? Should you consider how often the books are removed? The quality of the literature displayed? The timeliness of the topic? The inventiveness?

Or should we do it the way our forefathers and foremothers intended? That’s right. Twitter hits.

Recently one of our librarians saw a very cool library display at another system. The premise was quite simple. There is a literary trend afoot at the moment where a woman is alluded to but never named. Everything from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to Gone Girl to The Woman in the Window.  Call it a title trend, if you like. One or two of these books and it’s intriguing. Four or five and it’s charming. Fifty a week and it’s outstayed its welcome. The display that the library had conjured up was to show these books alongside a sign that said, “SHE HAS A NAME”. Then, librarians meticulously Post-It Noted each book with the name of the woman in the title.

Picasso is thought to have once said, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.”  I would amend that slightly in this case to read, “Good librarians copy; great librarians borrow.” It is par for the course for librarians to borrow ideas for displays from one another (and from booksellers too, for that matter). So in due time we put up our own display and it seemed to be popular. Then I put it on Twitter.

565 retweets and 1,937 likes later, we had ourselves a hit. I wouldn’t necessarily dub it viral, but this is perhaps the most popular thing I’ve ever put on Twitter before, and certainly the most popular thing that was library-related. Now libraries all around the country are making their own displays. It just goes to show what can happen when somebody gets a good idea.

What Are You Trying to Say? The Art of the Book Display

December 20, 2017

About two or three months ago I was wandering around the Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, when I was struck by this engaging little book display:

As you can see, each shelf catered to a different personality type, seen through a Harry Potter lens. I was rather awed by it all. To create a display like this you need to not only know the different houses in the Harry Potter series but be well read enough on current titles to be able to deftly place each book in its proper location. No mean feat, to be sure.

Here at Evanston Public Library, we put a lot of work into our book displays. I wish I could say that I have the same level of inspiration and creativity as my bookstore brethren, but those folks are pros. Me? I’m learning. And library displays are at a natural disadvantage when compared to bookstores. We only have a limited number of titles in stock, and the most popular or interesting fare has a tendency to walk out the door fast. Inevitably that means that the less popular books are the ones left to fill spaces on the display shelves, which doesn’t make the display look all that great.

Yet for all that, I love making our displays. Over the past two years I’ve created several distinct display areas throughout the adult sections. These include the Most Wanted displays, which act like a kind of game for patrons. Can YOU put a book back without hearing it fall to the floor three seconds after  you turn your back on it? (Don’t worry. Neither can I) These books are the most popular in the library. Next to them is the first floor display. This display is usually thematic, and can be anything from coffee table books to celebrating Thanksgiving meals. Due to foot traffic this display tends to be our most popular, though there was a time when I managed to briefly turn it into The Least Popular Display of All Time. Apparently there aren’t that many people that just like to read biographies. If there is a specific biography they’re looking for, our patrons are happy to check them out. But a whole display of new bios? Not a single book moved for a week. Lesson learned. Ix-nay on the ios-bay.

On the second floor there are actually six different display areas. On a low table sit the Staff Picks, which feature a different staff member every month. Next, the DVD Staff Picks, which are directly across from the literary Staff Picks. Next, two rotating displays. In spite of the fact that this bookcase is slightly out of the way and not easy to see, I have been gratified to see its materials circulate at a rapid rate. And, as you may recall, it was here that I discovered that the most popular books for any display in the Evanston Public Library are the grammar books. I’m still puzzling that one out.

Finally, you have the New Books display, which is inexplicably split into two sections. There’s the little round table on the East side of the Reader’s Advisory Desk. Then, if you walk past a random wooden cubicle you’ll find even more New Books. Don’t assume the face out titles aren’t carefully selected as well. I always take care to face out the newest books, so that there’s always something interesting that you might not have seen before.

None of this even includes the Art Book display at the end of the New Book nonfiction, or the Spanish language display near the Spanish titles, of course. Nor the DVDs that hang near their shelves. Or anything going on in the children’s or YA sections. Keeping all these displays filled and attractive is a full-time job, but worth it in the end. A library is all the more inviting when time, care, and attention are brought to how books are shown off.

Have an idea for a display? Let me know! I’m usually at the library and easy to spot. Just look for the woman obsessively restocking the displays at all hours of the day. That would be me.

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