Whenever I’m running low on display ideas, I have my favorite go-to methods for finding ideas and inspiration: Consult Chase’s to find interesting or relevant upcoming holidays or anniversaries! Refer to my (admittedly, somewhat neglected) Pinterest board of ideas I wanted to remember for later! Or, when I’m really at a loss… just Google it (“[month] library displays”). I generally find plenty of good examples that way, but I’ve noticed that a lot of them come from children’s and teen librarians, and public libraries in general.
I worried for a while that this meant I was doing this part of my job wrong… Isn’t there a difference between public and academic displays? Shouldn’t there be?
I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions on the role of displays in academic libraries, including that they should…
- …provide leisure or extracurricular reading for students who want a break.
- …encourage involvement in student clubs, volunteer activities, or civic engagement.
- …be directly related to coursework through a partnership with teaching faculty.
- …encourage student success by promoting study skills and time management.
- …be interactive.
- …make users say, “I didn’t know the library had that!”
- …be big and flashy and catch attention; if they go viral, you’re nailing it.
- …be funny and light-hearted.
- …be serious and scholarly.
- …include handouts or other freebies / takeaways.
- …tie into online research guides on a related topic, with QR codes or posted URLs.
- …be used as a recruitment tool and encourage enrollment / registration.
- …consist only of items that can be checked out.
- …showcase archival or rare items (preferably under glass, lock, and key).
- …target current students OR potential students OR everyone OR a specific club/group.
- …be archived online for digital engagement with users who weren’t there in person.
- …be the result of input or work from users themselves along with the library.
All of these are good suggestions in the right context, and I think a mix of these makes for a better collection of displays. I always like having a few “fun” displays and a few “serious” displays at the same time, to reach a wider audience and to show more of the types of things the library can provide. The only restriction should be fitting a need of your users, but users have a lot of needs, so you have a lot of options.
After being “the display person” for several years, I see displays as a visual place where you can see all of Ranganathan’s laws in play, and have tried to keep these concepts in mind when building displays. Books are for use: let them take a vacation from the shelf and get a little fresh air! Someone might pick them up serendipitously, when they would never have gone looking for them on the shelf. Every person their book: not only should collections reflect the needs and interests of the people, but the displays should too, in a more narrowly focused and temporary way. Every book its person: I find that displays are one way of checking on the interest in a topic or a specific item; if it doesn’t get used on the shelf and it doesn’t get used on display, you may want to reconsider its place in the collection. Save the time of the user: if you’re making timely displays with wide interest, the display may provide the user quicker access to the items they’re looking for. The library is a growing organism: use displays to highlight new items, or showcase interesting library services like 3D printing to remind users of all we have to offer them.
Note that, in the advice above, I didn’t mention anything exclusive to academic libraries, or exclusive of them, either. What that means, to me, is that I can unabashedly borrow ideas from public and children’s library displays, as long as they’re relevant to my library’s users as well. And when something doesn’t work, at least I learned from that idea. (Example: I have always been hesitant to do a “blind date with a book” for an academic library, because I worry that someone might go looking for a specific book that happened to be used in the display, and not be able to find it, whereas the public library (1) is more likely to have multiple copies of fiction titles, and (2) has more of a browsing collection, while we have more of a “searching” collection.)
What kinds of displays have you put up in your academic libraries? What have you had success with, and what did not work out so well? (Bonus points for sharing photos!)