I’ve had this “creative library display ideas” post kicking around in my drafts folder here for the better part of a year, and I realized…someone else should write it. Specifically, my kickass colleague Rob Lorino (@lostboybrarian), because he makes some of the best displays I’ve ever seen. Take it away, Rob!
Confession: Making displays is probably my favorite part of being a librarian. I think that’s due in part to my photography background. I tend to put photographers in two categories: there are the documenters, who try to capture the world as they see it, and there are the constructors, who create objects, situations, and worlds to photograph. I’m firmly in the latter camp, and the skills I’ve developed creating props, outfits, and more for photo shoots have really lent themselves to the art of display making.
Photography background aside, why do I love making displays so much? Making displays combines creativity, problem solving, and self-promotion. (Or is that shelf-promotion?) You get instant feedback and can see how patrons are responding. Honestly, it’s still a small rush for me every time I see an empty spot on one of my displays. It’s also value added for your patrons by collecting materials that don’t necessarily get shelved together. Sure you can point patrons to the 970’s if they’re looking for books for Black History Month, but you’re missing so many other areas that are just as relevant to Black History month: biographies, parts of the 300’s, movies, music, etc.
I’ve been lucky enough to work in libraries that have pretty much allowed me carte blanche in terms of selecting themes for my displays. I largely pick a theme based on what’s been on my mind recently; but that’s not me being lackadaisical. If you’re paying attention to current events and pop culture, what’s on your mind will in all likelihood be what’s on your patrons’ minds. I’ve done displays based on holidays, like Black History Month and Banned Books Week. I look to current events as well, like with my display of Oscar-winning films. Sometimes I’m inspired to highlight a collection that I know some patrons don’t know we have, like Playaways or graphic novels. Other times I’ll use the season or other feature of a month to get a little punny, like a “cold-hearted characters” display I did in December, or a “fall into adventure” display of autumn-colored covers I did in November. Displays are a great way to show off new collections too: I made a display celebrating the addition of adult video games to our collection.
After I’ve got a theme, I try to visualize what I want my display to look like. Bold, graphic, and unexpected are adjectives I try to keep in my head throughout the process. For me, displays are places to catch patron’s attention visually, not necessarily places to feed patrons lots of information. If you can do both, that’s great! But the visual impact is key to making patrons walk over and engage. Don’t muddy the waters by putting too much on your display – negative space is just as important as your visuals. It’s also important to remember that books or other materials will be occupying the same space as the rest of your display. You’ll want to remember to make sure that the materials don’t get in the way of important parts of your display. The materials will also be another layer of visual interest, which is why I try for more simple but graphic visuals on my displays.
When it comes to the actual construction of displays, I try my best to make or borrow as many elements of my display as possible. I will occasionally buy a piece here or there if I’m really married to a specific idea, but a lot of times you can make things using really basic materials like construction paper, poster board, card stock, glue, etc. I recently made a (fake) jumbo size AAA battery using a roll of paper as a base and covering it with construction paper. Websites like Pinterest and other crafty blogs have innumerable guides and tutorials on how to create pretty much anything you’d need. Creating interesting lettering or graphics is easier than ever now with software like Publisher, InDesign, and Photoshop, and free online tools like Canva. I feel like every display I make teaches me something new or a way to be more efficient next time, through trial and error. Learning things like the fact that painting on card stock might make it warp or that different types of glue are more effective on different materials aren’t necessarily intuitive to folks (like me) that don’t craft all the time.
I tend to judge the success of a display by three things: did materials get checked out, did people stop and browse the display, and did patrons comment to staff about the display. Having materials move off the display is the most obvious, but the other two are just as important. Even if a patron doesn’t physically take anything from your display, if you get them to notice it you’ve still given them something. That something could be knowledge of something the library offers. It could be perspective on something in the world; several people relayed that they had an “aha” moment with the tagline “Black History Is Now” I used for my Black History Month display. It could even just a positive experience, like a chuckle at your bad pun or appreciating the artistry of the display itself. Sometimes it’s hard to capture the latter two, so if you notice patrons stopping to look at a coworker’s display or if patrons say something nice about a display, definitely let your coworkers know!
I know that thinking up new displays and executing them every month can feel like a slog to some people, but displays are an incredibly important service we provide to our patrons. They can be a really fun and engaging way to interact with your patrons – don’t underestimate them!
Thanks, Rob! (Again, he’s at @lostboybrarian on Twitter.) Does anyone else have any display ideas they’re proud of? Stuff you’ve always wanted to try? Challenges? Handy crafting tips? Please share in the comments!