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Libraries borrowing marketing ideas from bookstores

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Courtney Hergesheimer | Dispatch

Rupal Birch selects a book from the Dublin library’s “crime” display. Public libraries increasingly are looking more like bookstores, but their motivation has more to do with education than profit.


Dean Narciso

The Columbus Dispatch

Monday November 28, 2011 7:15 AM





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Today’s public libraries have a lot in common with retail bookstores, featuring special displays,
coffee kiosks and gift shops.

It’s a way to keep libraries relevant, boost circulation and compete for the public’s dollar at
a time when public funding is being cut, experts say.

Soft chairs flank a display of travel books at the Downtown branch of Columbus Metropolitan
Library, where it’s OK to browse, dream, relax or even loiter.

Another display touts poetry and includes a message board allowing patrons to share their

Throughout the library, books are displayed with the covers facing out. “Staff picks” are lined
up on a table; another holds books billed “As heard on NPR.”

The Dublin branch had an overflow of true-crime and “edgy fiction thrillers,” said manager
Michael Blackwell, so they were pulled out, embellished with crime-scene tape and now are a
featured category.

“It’s standard operating procedure,” said Pat Losinski, director of the library system. “Our
mission and our drive is to make materials relevant to our customers. We’re going out of our way to
show customers that we’re aware of their investment.”

Library spokesman Kim Snell noted the library’s removal of large circulation desks a few years
ago, which opened up the lobby for more displays.

“We don’t just want our staff just hovering behind a desk,” Snell said. “Having the books facing
out can expose patrons to a title, author or subject that they might not have seen.”

Staff members, meanwhile must replenish the displays with new books and themes.

It’s a balancing act, said Steve Herminghausen, lead librarian at Northwest Library, between
having “things that are popular, but also promoting titles that people might not know about.”

The “power walls” at Northwest include award winners, graphic novels and collections on
parenting, science, current events and crafts. A separate table holds international books, with an
Eastern-language emphasis.

Even the children’s area has attention-grabbing collections, focusing on superheroes and

“We know that, as bookstore experts have known for years, the face-out displays matter,”
Losinski said. “It casts at least a preliminary vision in the reader’s mind” of what the book is
about and why it’s important.

Of course, a library’s incentive to move products has more to do with education than making

“I think the greatest measure of success is that displays need to be” restocked with books,
Losinski said. “It’s simply making the discovery process more intuitive for the customers.”

In the Hilliard branch, patrons are greeted by a wall of new and featured books when they enter
and leave. That often poses a challenge.

Said manager Chip Patzer, “Some people tell me they can’t look anymore because of the

But, he added: “That’s just one of the pleasures to going into a library, to get something you
didn’t expect.”

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