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What Libraries Can Learn from Record Stores

by on October 1, 2015

Anyone who has seen High Fidelity remembers how rude and snobby the clerks of John Cusack’s record store were. So what do they have to teach libraries about customer service? Fostering a culture of discovery through passionate and knowledgeable customer service and creative reader’s advisory are things libraries could learn from record stores. During one memorable scene in the film, the store is crowded with people browsing for items. One clerk, Jack Black, animatedly piles records on a customer, inspired to choose “better” albums than the one for which the customer asked. Another clerk describes all the albums that influenced a particular band, even playing one of the albums for the impressed customer. A third puts on a song and comments to his coworker, “I will now sell five copies of…[this] EP,” and moments later someone shouts across the store to ask what band is playing.

People visit record stores for the knowledgeable staff and air of discovery that comes from browsing and the unique merchandising. Libraries can cultivate these same qualities.

Tap the interests of your staff to make the library a hub of insider knowledge. Encourage staff to read, watch movies, and listen to the music on your shelves by waiving fines or other perks. Staff professional development “happy hour” is another way to encourage staff to explore their interests within the library field by scheduling time for self-education. By nurturing a passionate and engaged staff, time for professional development will contribute to an air of learning and discovery for your patrons. Allow staff interests and strengths to drive programming. Host gatherings for groups with passions related to reading such as writers during National Novel Writing Month or comic books fans by organizing your own comic book or anime convention. A mystery loving staff member might advise a book group by finding discussion-worthy titles. College readiness events could be improved with the input of staff who have recently gone through the process with their own children. With staff driving programming, it is doubly important for them to reflect the diversity of the community the library serves.

Encourage browsing and serendipitous discovery. Like the quirky labels on record store bins, genre indicators encourage browsing. Focus on the user experience of your library with cohesive, professional wayfinding, which allows patrons to stumble upon unexpected titles while navigating to a known item. Shelving books by genre also aids browsers, but even just adding genre stickers to the spines of books can help. There are also ways to encourage discovery without traditional browsing. Staff picks of books and movies are always a popular way to promote unusual or overlooked items. Place these and other “impulse” items— such as beach reads during the summer–on or near the circulation desk. “Blind Date with a Book” is a fun passive program that encourages adventurous reading. Cover books in paper and attach a short description to the outside so patrons have to choose a book without knowing the title or author until it is checked out. Read alike recommendations for popular books and authors will also help patrons discover unexpected favorites.

Developing a knowledgeable, passionate staff (without the snark of the record store staff in High Fidelity) and being creative about reader’s advisory are important aspects of nurturing a culture of discovery in your library.

“happy hour”

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