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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