Merchandising the Circ Desk: the importance of visual cues

March 18, 2013, 5:41 pm

As part of an upcoming renovation we’re spending a lot of time thinking about engagement and how to stage positive and productive user experiences. I met with members of our team last week to talk about current and anticipated interactions and touch points within our library.



What’s the visual cue here?

Lauren got me thinking about visual cues. For example, does your reference desk invite people to linger-and-learn or does it promote short discussions? At VT we’re seeing fewer questions overall, but we’re investing more time per person on instructional topics. So the issue becomes: how might we reshape the “getting help experience” to signify and accommodate long conversations?


This applies to circulation too. Much of their activity consists of quick transactions: grab-and-go. But consider the difference between checking out a book on reserve vs. placing a book on reserve. These two encounters require different settings: one takes thirty seconds and the other several minutes.



What’s the visual cue here?

We’ve started a process of inventorying current and anticipated service interactions and are considering how the spaces we develop can promote particular behaviors. If the intention of the reference desk is teaching then it shouldn’t look like an airline ticket counter or a traditional hotel front desk. Teaching space looks and behaves differently than answering-your-quick-question space.


I wanted to share an interesting observation. I hosted an exercise reviewing a wide variety of service spaces—banks, hotels, trade shows, retail, etc— and we considered the visual cues of those different environments.



What’s the visual cue here?

One of the slides featured a jewelry store. What’s the visual cue here? Browsing! Maybe you know what you want and can point right to it. Or maybe you’re not sure and prefer to try several options. The point is that the items are in full view. This is a perfect solution for a growing development at our circulation desk.  We’ve recently started lending a handful of adaptors to accommodate SCALE-UP, media:scape, and other technology needs. Instead of keeping them locked away in a backroom it seems we could emulate the jewelry store experience by showcasing them. The expert user can point right to the item she needs, while the novice can try on different adaptors to find the right fit. It’s good for users, but also helpful for library staff may not understand the complexity of all the hardware and related accessories.


The lesson: put your stuff on display. Just like in a jewelry store or a bakery, seeing sells. Make it visible to the people who need it see it. Shape an encounter that encourages browsing. Show off the eBook readers and tablets, the GPS units, the Raspberry Pi, the calculators, the projectors, the adaptors and tools, and so on. Stimulate interest and curiosity designing a shopping experience. If you have something like this in operation, post links in comment– I’d like to see what others are doing.


Full Disclosure: I’ve been obsessed with visual merchandising techniques and practices for the past several months. I’m writing about it in a forthcoming paper. Excited to share my thoughts on this topic.

See also: Chicken Wings and Egg Rolls: The Library Menu Concept (a flashback from 2007)

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