This is an excerpt from Chapter Seven of
The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin,
2006, 6th edition). For a list of all topics covered here
and in the print edition see Chapter Seven list.
Chapter 7: The Print Climate in the Home,
How do I make my school library more successful
on a limited budget?
You can start by taking a hard look at your local grocery store. In
1996, The New York Times ran an article on supermarkets and the keys
to their success.17 The author noted there originally was only one rule
for supermarkets: Put the milk at one end of the store and bread at
the other—to get people to walk through the entire store. That rule
still applies: The more they see, the more they buy. But the Universal
Price Code scanner at the checkout offers other observations, including
some we might apply to libraries:
- Only 31 percent of grocery patrons bring a shopping
list (more than half of adult library patrons arrive
without a book in mind; even more so for children).
- Two-thirds of purchases are unplanned (very similar
to book choices).
- Products placed at the optimum level (15 degrees
below eye level) sell 8 percent better (clear or weed
spaces at eye level for displaying books).
Few grocery customers know that food companies pay nine billion dollars for shelf space (“slotting fees”), accounting for one-half of stores’ annual profits. In simple terms, they’re renting shelf space. Paying that kind of money, the manufacturer makes sure its product is displayed on the shelf to its best advantage—that is, face-out. This visibility is so connected to sales, the low-paying companies receive the worst seats in the house—the top and bottom shelves.18
he reason companies want each product face-out is
simple: It’s the cover that most often influences our choices—the picture of
the cookie, cereal, cake mix, or magazine. Any magazine editor can tell you
immediately the names of the persons whose images will immediately boost newsstand
sales (once it was Diana, then it was Oprah, now it's Brad or Brittany).
Compare that successful marketing approach with what we do with books and children. I often get the feeling that if most children's librarians were brought in as consultants for the grocery industry, the first thing they’d suggest would be to turn all the boxes and bags sideways to squeeze more of them onto the shelf.
Unlike grocery stores, some libraries haven't discovered that face-out marketing enhances circulation.
What does the spine of the book tell you? The title, author, publisher, and
Dewey decimal number. Since 60 percent of the people going into a bookstore
or library don’t have a particular book (or author or publisher) in mind, it’s
the cover that will move the book, not the spine. The majority of public and
school libraries I see in my travels are clueless when it comes to these principles.
Some don’t have a single book shelved cover-out. An amazing number have them
face-out but beyond the reach of children who could read them. The power of
face-out works even at the lowest levels of literacy. When researchers observed
a kindergarten classroom library for one week, 90 percent of the books that
children chose had been shelved with the covers facing out.19 The
photograph here (above right) of the children’s room of a public library is
typical of what I find in 90 percent of libraries (school and public) around
the U.S. (Yes, I know there are exceptions to this rule, and the reason they
stand out is because—they’re exceptions.)
Coffee and a book — at the school library
Even before the school bell rings each
morning, students at Centennial
High School in Franklin, Tenn., are lined up
to get into the library. They aren't necessarily looking for books but
are waiting for a cup of joe at the Cougar Cafe, a coffee shop run by
students. Coffeehouses, which have become standard fare in bookstores
and shopping malls, also are springing up in high school libraries. School
officials say coffee shops promote reading and studying by attracting
teens who might not otherwise hang out at the library. Before opening
its coffeehouse in 2003, the library at Houston's Hastings High
about 6,000 visits a year and checked out about 3,000 books, librarian
John Witmer says. Now, "we're running about 65,000 visits and checking
out about 45,000 books."
Better Life column, USA Today, Oct.
31, 2007, p. 7D
According to a lead Business
Page article in USA Today ("Something
else to check out at library: Starbucks," Sept.
28, 2007), more than 30 college libraries now have their own Starbucks
cafe. In 2002, there wasn't a single such location. The University of
San Francisco noted library patronage is up by an annual average of 147,000
for the last four years. The library dean at Cal State Long Beach reported
a shortage of library seats since Starbucks arrived, while adding that
book damage is down now that students no longer have to hide their drinks
and food in backpacks.
When the New York Pubic Library
announced a $1 billion upgrading of its system, culture critic Edward
Rothstein of The New York Times wondered if the transformation would
turn the libraries into entertainment centers or culture centers. He
examined the options in Library
For more on coffee in the library, see "Cafe
Society: Do school libraries need a double shot of espresso?" by Debra
Lau Whelan, School Library Journal, January 2008.
|A good librarian (or reading
teacher) also needs to be a good spy: Who's reading what? The case
in point is Judge
Olly Neal and how he went from being a troubled teen
to being a college student and then a judge.
Where do I get the shelf space for face-out books?
I’m not talking about positioning every book face-out. Bookstores don’t place
every book face-out, but the ones they really want to move—the new arrivals,
the bestsellers—always go face-out. Unlike most educators and librarians, publishers
know the cover sells the book, so not only do they work extra-hard designing
the right cover, many pay the book chains as much as $750 a month per book
to have the cover showing.20 That’s how important the cover is.
Nonetheless, classroom teachers have even less room than libraries for this approach. In response to the space challenge, a few years ago a teacher (whose name I wish I had jotted down) told me how she’d solved the problem by installing rain gutters in the dead spaces throughout her classroom: the space between the chalk ledge and the floor, the two-foot space between the closet and the chalkboard. Then another teacher sent me photographs of the rain gutters she’d installed.
The rain gutters they were talking about were purchased at the local hardware store for about three dollars per ten-foot strip, and were made of enameled, reinforced plastic. As plastic, they were easily cut to any size, and were supported by plastic brackets that could be screwed into almost any wall, including concrete blocks (see below). And they hold a lot of books—face-out.
Rain gutter shelving at Barbara
Bush Elementary in Mesa, AZ, when Mike Oliver was principal.
After I mentioned the concept at an all-day teacher workshop, Mike
Oliver, then the principal of Alma Elementary in Mesa, Arizona,21 approached me at the break. “We could do this at my school!” he exclaimed with great enthusiasm. “We could do it in every classroom. I know we could.” I could see the images dancing in his head as he spoke to me. I could also see an inner-city principal who understood that reading is more than just teaching the basics, more than drill and skill.
That summer, Oliver spent nearly $3,000 on rain gutters (I call him the “Martha
Stewart” of rain gutters!). Recruiting volunteers from parents and faculty,
he installed the shelving throughout the school, including his own office.
Since then, Mesa has asked him to open two new schools (Barbara Bush Elementary
and then James Zaharis Elementary) with each bearing his unique imprint for
literacy: Children will come to love books if surrounded by quality instruction,
a rich print environment, and a caring, reading faculty, and rain gutters.
For more on rain gutter shelving, see Rain Gutters.
At a cost of just $3 for ten feet, plastic rain gutter turns dead wall space
into an attractive opportunity for face-out book marketing. Rain gutters alone
aren’t going to solve a school or community's reading problems. They’re
merely a piece of a marketing strategy. But without marketing, few products
get off the ground, no matter how good their design.