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A "Brand" New Perspective for Libraries

2009 August 23

Yesterday Tara and I had the pleasure of hosting a one-day workshop at ISB entitled Rethink: Inspiring School Library Spaces, led by Kevin Hennah, an exceptionally engaging library consultant from Melbourne. Not only was the presentation informative and inspiring (more on that later), but the story of how it all came to be is pretty interesting too.

Once again, the power of personal learning networks leads to amazing real life connections. Kevin was presenting at a conference in Cairns with Judy O’Connell last April, who, though she has never been to our Learning Hub, included a picture or two from my Flickr set in her presentation. When Kevin saw the pictures of our space, Judy connected us via e-mail, and Kevin, on one of his regular visits to Bangkok, was standing in our library a few weeks later!

As soon as we met him, Tara and I knew he would be a fantastic speaker (and have tons of crucial advice on adding the finishing touches to our Learning Hub), so, in the span of a few weeks we arranged a one-day workshop here in Bangkok and invited any and all interested regional librarians. Amazingly, despite the fact that we started our planning in early May (at the very hectic end to our school year) and the fact that the workshop took place during the first week of school for most people, we had quite a crowd. Over 30 librarians flew in from all over Asia: Taiwan, China, Brunei, Singapore, and of course, Thailand.

As we anticipated, Kevin did not dissappoint. His previous experience in retail sales and marketing gives him a unique perspective on libraries, and his endless suply of “before and after” images provided practical ideas that librarians can implement immediately. A few of Kevin’s points really jumped out at me:

Libraries have customers, not patrons: If libraries take only one thing from retail, it should be that their job is to attract and entice customers into their space by branding (think logos and bold signage), attractive marketing of books, and a welcoming environment. Kevin challenges librarians to see their library from the customer’s perspective – finding things should be breeze, customers should be able to pinpoint the resources they’re looking for without a map, and the strategic arrangement of resources should encourage “impulse” borrowing.

Think of your library like a monopoly board: When a customer walks in to the space, they should find themselves on “Park Place” or “Boardwalk.” The most popular, most interesting and most inviting resources should be front and center. Kevin recommends walking around your space to determine your “hot,” “warm,” and “cold” zones to ensure that whatever is placed in the hot zone is “paying the rent.”

Make the books the stars! Instead of thinking about creating complicated “displays,” focus on a marketing strategy to “sell” as many books as possible. Keep the covers front and center using a quick and easy strategy for high impact visuals, instead of something contrived that takes ages to construct. Think DVD or CD displays in a mall – the more covers a customer can see, the more likely they’ll be to pick something up. Take advantage of the ends of aisles like a supermarket, where browsing can lead to borrowing.

Kevin had some great quick and easy ideas for high impact marketing strategies that libraries can implement in no time at all:

  • Put a recent returns cart or shelf in front of a library with a big sign, capitalizing on easy of display as well as ensuring that high interest books are front and center.
  • Welcome your customers, don’t nag them. Why is the first thing we often see when walking into a library a (usually poorly made) notices not to eat, not to talk, and not to use your phone instead of a welcoming sign?
  • Use those glass cases to showcase books on hold, rather than books you actually want people to borrow. Tantalize your patrons with something they can’t get their hands on yet, to entice them to come back again.

Final Thoughts

If retail strategies have so much to offer libraries, I’m now left wondering, what do popular and “addictive” websites, like Facebook, have to offer schools trying to shape their online presence?

13 Responses leave one →
  1. August 23, 2009

    The opposite is also a good question: what do schools/educators have to offer Facebook/the internet? (courtesy of Jeff Utecht, I think; but I just spent a few minutes browsing his Twitter/blog and couldn’t find the exact source.)

  2. August 24, 2009


    What a helpful presentation! Thanks for sharing it!

  3. August 24, 2009

    Hi Kim, these connections are amazing aren’t they? I love seeing Kevin sitting in your swing chair – and wish we had some amazing things like that! Anyway, it’s grand that you have a great day with Kevin. He was fun to work with in Cairns, and remains an inspiration to many of us downunder. Now I can’t wait to visit your wonderful school if I am ever in your part of the world. Thanks for welcoming Kevin and introducing him to so many people.

  4. August 25, 2009

    What great ideas to consider as we plan how to reach out to our customers! Thanks for sharing.

  5. August 25, 2009

    Different perspective about libraries,thanks for sharing the information with us.
    This is different way to promote libraries.

  6. Candace Aiani permalink
    August 26, 2009

    Kevin was extremely inspiring. The library assistants and I are making signage right now from some of the ideas that he presented. We started to discuss a motif and began to play around with some ideas for displays. And…Kim and Tara were great hosts. Thank you!

  7. jocelyn holden permalink
    August 26, 2009

    Congrats to you and your team for a brilliant “branding” workshop experience from beginning to end. I have become a ‘good design’ bloodhound now.

  8. Jim permalink
    September 4, 2009

    Though I love this blog and the suggestions for the libraries, it sends chills down my spine that we need to package everything for consumption. Communities are not markets, patrons are not customers. Libraians are not retail clerks. Are we going to act like everything in which humans are involved should be a commodity?


  9. September 7, 2009

    Hi Kim,
    This is an excellent post with lots of ideas to ponder. I especially like the idea of signage so that items are easily found. I’m going to implement this right away! Thanks for the great inspiration!

  10. September 12, 2009


    For sure. Any thoughts on that one?


    Glad it’s helpful!


    You are welcome to visit any time Judy! Thank you so much for making the connection possible!


    Glad it’s helpful for you!

    @spanish school in spain

    I agree, this is definitely a different way to promote libraries!


    So glad you enjoyed the day! And impressed that you’re already working on implementing Kevin’s ideas!


    Thanks so much for coming! I think we’re all inspired to look for good design now.


    I don’t think the purpose is only to view libraries as having solely commodities to offer, more that what we want to do is promote reading and there are many different ways to do this. Branding and viewing libraries as retail spaces is one that hasn’t really been considered by libraries before. Bringing new ideas and creativity to spaces that might not be as successful as they could be is one way to reach that goal.


    Glad that was helpful for you!

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