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Sunday, 10 March 2013

Commercial Techniques in Libraries

Some ago I came across a blogpost criticising libraries for using retail techniques.  Unfortunately, I can no longer find the link.  This brought to my mind part of the permanent exhibition at the Brent Musuem.  No link to the actual exhibit I am afraid.  However, it took a haberdashers from Willesden High Road that was still in use after the war, and exhibited as an example of how shops used to work.  The haberdashers closed down after the war but was still run on Victorian principles where you went to a shop keeper behind a counter, and asked them to fetch what you wanted.  I gather that in say 1900, a library was run in the same way.

If you went to say Harlesden Library, you would have asked to see the catalogue, and then asked the librarian to fetch a copy for you.  This is still the system that some university and the British library use for rare books, but is regarded as outmoded elsewhere.  Anyway, I would suggest a at some point in the last hundred years, librarians learnt from retailers to change in a way that is generally accepted now.  Perhaps it is not outrageous to learn from retailers now.

The kind of thing that libraries are now adopting have been in place in some areas quite a long time. For instance, displaying books in full frontal rather than just spines, the positioning of displays in the building, and so on.  Sometimes these apparently minor changes can have major effects, so (for example) i understand that changes in shelving arrangement to the books by prescription display in Brent libraries saw a huge increase in usage.  I am sure a professional librarian could go into such techniques in much more detail.

Anyway, the post I read seemed to think that this made public libraries more "commercial".  I don't see how this true. In my view libraries that go down this route are simply getting more people to use them.  One of the fundamental aspects of libraries compared to the private sector is that greater usage creates greater cost for a library, whereas a shop should get greater profit, so libraries that adopt these measures are quite anti-commercial.

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