Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why We Borrow! Redesigning Libraries by Learning from Successful Retail Practices

Ann Marie Luthro from Envirosell was a great presenter. She was used to dealing with corporations and not non-profit/governmental agencies.

The key is to study what happens in the box. It is a maze and the customer is a mouse. Watch the maze and the mouse. There are different kinds of mice. They want to get through the maze to get their thing. Nobody can make you buy stuff. You are in the store because you have a need.

There are three primary reasons people come to the library (and they vary a little bit from library to library). You have to know the primary destination.

Methodology is to watch. All of us are slightly voyeuristic. There is a pool of trackers who go around the country and watch people. Typically this is done in a store. Also look at how product lines sell at different stores. There are also some service studies.

In addition to watching, also video customers and pay attention to the behaviors. Shows certain things. Video really brings home the actions and reactions. She showed a video clip to demonstrate her point.

Libraries are the last "local." They were one of the first town meetings and one of the last ones standing. In America we are looking for "home" or a third space within a short drive or a walk, and we (libraries) have it.

Does your staff have an indication that staff speak another language. [This may not be a big issue in Eau Claire but in other communities it may be!] Libraries are the only place trying to reach out and teach and educate. The only face of public service in this country.

Majority of shoppers/customers enter the place alone, second most is in families (moms with kids). On the rise is a group of friends. In libraries this is often young people coming in to use the Internet. Teen rooms for about 10 people are not meeting their needs to have physical activity. If you allow "roaming, free-range teenagers" you need to think about proximity to other services.

Space is gender neutral, which is incredibly unusual. Almost every retail environment skews female. Now, this is changing, there is a growth of men in retail. Women still shop for fun.

Frequency of visiting is on par. Frequency of visits are closest to Starbucks, then supermarkets, and then Walmart. What do we need to do to take care of people who visit more than once a week. We cannot just ignore them and assume that they know what is where. Have to keep them coming. The borrow rate is not on par with the visit rate is because the PC is not checked out.

Why do people visit? All over the place because ethnicities are all over the place. That is different groups use the facility differently. Average number of items checked out is almost 5. The dollar value of the basket is very high, and would be coveted by most retailers.

Length of visit was a surprise. Trackers were set up thinking that the visits were long. 93% spend less than half an hour. However, length of visit is still higher than other retailers including Walmart and supermarkets, but also home stores.

The myth in retail is make them stay longer, and they will buy more. That is not true, it ties up staff time. The goal is to make the most of the time spent in the library. Visited three "macro sections" within the building: books, media, and computers.

What is measured: where is the first place they go? what do they look at? In libraries customers tend to head straight to section. Many come in with a sense of urgency (get ahead of other friends...) Need to build entrances more strategically. Get out from the desk. Ask questions on the floor. Recognize people, talk to them about what it is that they are checking out.

People are not asking questions, so don't put the info desk right there. She then went through some slides

Signage Think about these three things: Who needs the information? What are they doing/how are they moving? What information do they need?

Keep important info at chest level, and signs need to be in large enough type. Use odd shapes and sizes to get people's attention. We are used to square shapes and corners, and libraries are full of square shapes and corners. It is important to have a sense of movement ("theater").

America is changing and evolving and we need to also. The types of services being used are changing. Not necessarily good or bad, but media and PC use are increasing. What does it mean when circulation drops? We need to change how we measure our return on investment. People will "look it up online" and we may lose people.

Libraries are local and should reflect the local culture. If you have a coffee cart you need napkins and trash cans and people to take care of them. REI has staff who "live the life" and we need to borrow that idea.

The librarian scheduled to talk about San Jose (Mary Nacu) was sick so the program organizer, Lisa Rosenblum, presented the PowerPoint. She did a great job.

Do believe in self navigation, and do a great job of signage. Do zoning and assign staff by zones, not just for librarians, but for assistants as well.

Need to know your customers. That is not stereotyping to plan for things like mothers with strollers, it is a sign of good design.

Some users need help using libraries. Used colors to brand the children's section including slatwall and face out shelving. Style of sign matches activity. Also, clear up the clutter!!! (Every library can probably do this!) In Hayward, they also "de-signed" including putting the DVDs at the front and then did not put up signs! What a concept!

[There were no dowloadable handouts from this program.]


  1. I thought this was a great program and you've summarized it very well. I was also really impressed at how well the speakers adapted to difficulties. They told us what their problems had been, very briefly, then just moved forward.

    There is a good bit of research in academic libraries based on observations of students.

    It seems to me that, as a profession, we don't do a great job of using research about our own "stuff". We know a lot (and could know more), but that knowledge seems to often sit in a journal (or blog or presentation) silo.

  2. Thanks for your kind words, Dale!

  3. Michael, am finishing my notes on PLA and Googled your posting. Great summary. Have you been able to find any more on this study? Do you think this was the first one done by Envirosell for libraries.

    Spring is springing in Connecticut. Went to CLA this week, in Groton.


    Janet Cavanagh