A long time ago, the amazingly wonderful Jim Trelease wrote about rain gutter book shelves. The concept was simple. Forward facing book shelves are more appealing to children. They are able to truly see the books they are choosing and are, in fact, more apt to chose a book at all if they can see it’s cover.
Trelease draws on research from, of all places, the grocery store industry. Stick with me. It all makes an incredible amount of sense.
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).
It turns out, nearly the same statistics apply for book browsers and buyers as they do for grocery shoppers. While we don’t like to judge a book by it’s cover, we do. So we should be taking advantage of this fact when ‘selling’ books to our children.
And especially when we are ‘selling’ books to our younger readers, the ones who we want to catch the ‘reading’ bug so it becomes a life long love and habit.
I was reminded of the importance of forward facing books, particularly for our younger readers, the last time I took the girls to the library.
Caroline marched off into the stacks, eager to find any remaining Babysitter Club books that she hadn’t yet read. Even though there are literally hundreds of them, finding an unread one is becoming a challenging task. But this is post for another day about the power of series books…
Back to my point… Caroline walked into the stacks, knowing what she wanted and found her books simply by looking for the authors name on the spine. Katherine, however, was another story (pardon the pun) entirely. She wandered about enjoying the sights and sounds of one of her favorite places, choosing nothing, until she arrived at our new book section where all the books are forward facing. She then began really looking, choosing from among the covers for the titles that held the most appeal. After we read a few of these books, she began to wander again. She is now tall enough to reach the forward facing books on the top of picture book stacks and again, these were the books she chose. She did not chose a single book that was traditionally shelved.
While I’m not exactly looks for chores to do around the house, it seems I may have stumbled upon one. I will be curious to see what happens when I find space a few of Katherine’s books to face forward. I will be curious to see but something makes me thinks I won’t be surprised…