Ok. We have all done it. We go to one of the big bookstores and we start walking around. It has an instant familiarity to us. There are sounds, smells and lots of visuals that give comfort to the experience. We are a consumer society and admittedly, we find ourselves at home in the retail environment.
Now. Let’s look back to most of our memories in traditional library environments. First of all, next to going to the dentist, we were forced to go to the library in our youth. It was a place of “Shhhh, don’t act out of order,” and unless you found a place to fall asleep, it was usually not a place of comfort. And, the smell! I bet you can probably remember the musty smell of the library of the past.
Our old images not only conjure up the bad smell, there is an institutional deafening silence. Lighting was an afterthought. The lighting was usually the only sound coming from the ceiling. Music? Forget it. Layout? Once the furniture was in place, that placement would forever be the traffic pattern of the space.
Now the classic case of East meets West….the modern library.
The library of today is the gathering place. It is the “information commons” hub and lifeblood of a school or community. Like the retail location, displays and presentation are critical to the experience. Visual cues that are welcoming are key to making the environment work. It is not just about stacking books in an organized manner.
Lighting is not just for reading, it is for display. People will look at an illuminated display twice as long as a non-illuminated display.
Putting a face to a book? The personality of the staff has a direct impact on the experience of the user. When the staff recommend a book, people are 3 times more likely to read it. That is a retail trick we have all seen when we buy our double skim caramel latte, and they have proven that it works in libraries and bookstores.
The furniture on which these books are displayed also has to be inviting. Colors, design, style…. Retail-looking furniture is becoming the norm for the non-retail library location.
Ah…but finally that smell and the music. While we all might not have the opportunity to hear our favorite tunes at the local library (without a headset), the sense of smell has made its way to many of today’s newer media centers. The café has arrived…and so have the smells.
So, have we sold out? Have we made the traditional library just a giant version of a bookstore? I beg to differ. It has merely evolved with who we are and with the years of sensory training we have from living outside of our homes. Now, the library has become something we can all say is My Space….a place to “face the books” in order to expand our view of the world and learn. It has become a welcoming place that makes us feel at home.