DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Dec 29 2010

Why We Borrow

by Dea Anne M

One of my favorite non-fiction titles is Paco Underhill‘s Why We Buy: the science of shopping.  As someone who spent a number of years working in bookstores,  I have always been interested in what might be called the“science of shopping,” and Underhill’s book does a great job, I think, in illuminating the many ways, some quite unexpected,  in which our shopping experience can be, and is, manipulated to get us not only to spend more money, but to be happy about it.While public libraries are not in the business of selling books, it occurs to me that we are (or should be) interested in getting patrons in the door and providing them not only with an enjoyable library experience but also to encourage them to take the fullest advantage of the resources that we have to offer. I suspect that during tough economic times people might turn more and more often toward libraries to provide not only research, literacy, and job search assistance but as a source for entertainment that might at one time be purchased.

I think it’s interesting to consider how libraries can effectively utilize some of the “rules” that Underhill lays out for compelling design of space as well as other ways of helping patrons feel informed, welcomed, and satisfied. Here’s just a few:

1. Don’t put anything important (signage, displays, baskets) in the “transition” area. This is the area 10 feet or so around the entrance. The idea is that patrons (customers) don’t actually “see” anything until they get this far into the library (store) so anything put there is more than likely to go unnoticed.

2. Provide chairs. People will spend more time in places where they are comfortable. In the absence of formal furniture, people will improvise and sit on the floor, on window sills, on top of shelving units…you get the picture.

3. Provide the patron with what she or he needs. For libraries this might be items as basic as step stools, baskets, pencils and scratch paper, and staplers.  I think things like photocopiers and catalog computers fit in this category as well.

4. In terms of interior design, a basic, but often forgotten, factor is simply providing enough space for patrons to move in comfortably. Planning for this needs to involve considering patrons who move with walkers or wheelchairs as well as patrons pushing strollers.

5. Another design consideration has to do with the exterior of the building. Underhill’s belief is that a well-designed building is an advertisement for itself and invites you to step inside. One iconic library design is the 5th Avenue branch of the New York Public Library (at right) and check out these views of the Dublin, CA public library ( below).

What do you think of treating the patron’s library experience as similar to a shopping experience? How does a child’s happy library experience differ from an adult’s, or a teen’s?

If you’re at all interested in what motivates a shopper, then I think you’ll find Underhill’s book an absorbing and amusing read. Or check out these titles:

Shoptimism: why the American consumer will keep on buying no matter what by Lee Eisenberg.

Buy-ology: truth and lies about why we buy by Martin Lindstrom.

Treasure Hunt: inside the mind of the new global consumer by Michael J. Silverstein with John Butman.

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