Less is more: Making your book displays more appealing

Jane Jackson

Jane Jackson is Marketing Manager at BookSpace, an independent company whose products and resources are designed to develop a love of reading and writing amongst primary-aged children. Our range of creative writing products, WordSpace, stimulates and inspires children to write creatively and our innovative book display furniture is designed to create reading spaces with instant visual appeal which banish the image of a dull library forever. We also offer a free design service for schools looking to revamp their school library.

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We want our children to read more, and teachers are well-placed to create a buzz of excitement about books. You don’t need a large space or big budgets to do this. In fact, it’s amazing what a well thought-out small reading space can do for children’s confidence in reading and books.

"Sometimes more small displays dotted around the school will work better than one large display area, as it gives you more opportunities to attract children"

First consider where to site your display – avoid areas near entrances, where children will be getting accustomed to the new environment, removing coats etc, as they won’t notice any book displays. Instead, choose areas which enable children to take a book and spend time looking at it. If there is seating nearby even better, but at least provide an area where children won’t feel crowded and will feel comfortable browsing.

Your books don’t all have to be displayed together. In fact, sometimes more small displays dotted around the school will work better than one large display area. It gives you more opportunities to attract children and sends a message that reading is a cross-curricular activity which the whole school is embracing. Try experimenting with spaces next to PCs, on windowsills or on tables in the dining areas. Inexpensive acrylic display units work wonders in these areas. They allow you to display a handful of books at a time in a neat, compact way.

With any small book display, don’t be afraid to experiment. The beauty of these smaller displays is that they can be changed within seconds. The flip side of course is that they also require frequent topping-up. If it’s half empty it looks like the best has already gone, and will tempt no-one. Frequent topping-up will really help keep your displays looking fresh, exciting and tempting.

If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated reading space, consider how much stock you really need to display at any one time. There seems to be a commonly held view that the more books the better the library, but this isn’t always the case. At BookSpace we visit many schools looking to install a new library. On many occasions I’ve seen libraries crammed with books, resulting in shelving units so high that many of the books are out of children’s reach. There can be rows and rows of spines with not a book cover in sight, and a very dense shelving layout limiting space to comfortably browse, sit or read. Many libraries look more like a storage facility rather than an inviting, child-centred and interactive space that the whole school can enjoy.

"Avoid a library with empty shelves by thinking about how many books you actually have, or ultimately want to keep in the library."

The old adage that less is more is acknowledged by children as much as by adults. They can easily be overwhelmed by too much choice and often the result is they don’t select any books at all. Most of us would rather see fewer books displayed face-out so that we can instantly get an idea from the cover whether it is something we want to read rather than a huge variety so tightly crammed onto a shelf that we can’t tell one book from another. Here are my top 3 tips for creating a space where less really is more:

1. Out with the old

Do you want to keep all of your current stock in the new library? Are there any books that are outdated or in poor condition? Having a library with up-to-date and fresh looking books will look so much better than a library crammed with out-dated, dog-eared books. Which one would you choose to take off the shelf? If you think you could be a book hoarder, do some research to see how you can use your old books.

2. Our database says…

Library management software can be a fantastic tool, but often the number of books the system tells you that you have in school is not an accurate reflection of the number that you want to eventually keep in the library. You’ll probably find that some of the books are in classrooms, on loan or have never been returned (and indeed never likely to be returned). Avoid a library with empty shelves by thinking about how many books you actually have, or ultimately want to keep in the library, which is not necessarily the same as thing as the number your computer system tells you.

3. Rotation, rotation

Consider rotating stock from time to time. Experiment and dig out some older titles for face-out display – you’ll be surprised by how quickly they are borrowed. Try moving stock around the reading space – reorganise from Z to A instead of A to Z and see if more books from the M to Z are borrowed! If you have specific classes coming into the space each week, try selecting books on the topics they are studying and displaying them face-out on the shelves. Moving stock around will look like you are continually getting new stock in and will ensure your space always looks inviting.

How do you go about presenting the books in your school? Share your ideas below.

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