Why can’t a library?

Be more like a store (with apologies to Frederick Loewe & Alan Jay Lerner)?

And if it were a store, what kind of store would it be? Please don’t say bookstore, because even though we apparently love them, they’re dying and going out of business. Except for those that evolve beyond books, earn the respect of customers, get into their communities, incorporate new ideas such as subscription services, “reading spas”, bibliotherapy, cafes, events and festivals with authors and celebrities (Butler, 2014).

The bookstore

Yet many libraries are adopting the bookstore model, by genre-fying their collection, ensuring that titles are front facing, having multiple copies of popular books (Day, 2013; Kindschy, 2015).

Even as many libraries have a huge online presence which they work hard at making visible to their clients through a wide variety of means including signage, display, print-outs, screens, bookmarks, social media etc. people like David Weinberger, are still implying that libraries are missing a trick while Gopnik laments “By atomizing our experience to the point of alienation—or, at best, by creating substitutes for common experience (“you might also like…” lists, Twitter exchanges instead of face-to-face conversations)—we lose the common thread of civil life” (Gopnik, 2015).

The fashion store

A few months ago, I had the most horrendous shopping experience – my son insisted that I accompanied him to an A&F store. Only after reading this article do I “get” why it was so awful.  The whole point of the loud music and low lights is to keep the wrinkly parentals OUT of the store, not to entice them in. There are those who lament that as libraries become more inclusive, more multifunctional hybrid spaces they are going the same way – keeping out the very people who have the need for scholarly quiet space (Miller, 2013; West, 2013).


On the other end of the spectrum, one has the Burberry model (Bath, 2014; Davis, 2014; Williams, 2014). Where there is seamless integration between the online and offline experience, which may go some of the way in addressing Weinberger’s concerns. What we are looking for is the omnichannel “an experience that takes consumers from their current channel of choice and seamlessly chaperones them within an uninterrupted brand experience through digital and physical worlds without the customer being consciously aware or concerned about where one channel started and the other finished” (Bath, 2014, para. 8).

The Grocery Store / kitchen

Joyce Valenza also uses a store metaphor “We need to stop thinking of the library as a grocery store a place to get stuff and start thinking of it as a kitchen a place to make stuff” (cited in Johnson, 2013). Further in the same article, referring to the mission of libraries, Johnson states “The library’s resources have changed, but not its mission: teaching people to effectively access information to meet their needs. The emphasis has shifted from teaching learners how to find and organize information to teaching them how to evaluate and use information” (2013, p. 85)
Strolling through Ikea yesterday on a mission to have a look at the design elements for a different assignment, I suddenly realised it had many elements and features that could be incorporated into a library.


A couple of things work in the Ikea model:

  • It’s practically impossible to leave without buying something
  • Your route is determined by the store layout
  • Clear signage and explanations
  • The incorporation of demo-rooms and demo-apartments shows you how you can use what the store can offer – visualizing and envisaging
  • A price point where decision making is easy (Carlyle, 2015)
  • Few of the products are “ready to use” without customer engagement (assembly)
  • Trends of users and society are researched and analyzed (IKEA, 2012)
  • Extreme users can hack the basics and go beyond to create to meet their own needs – and share their experience / learning with others (IKEAHackers.net, 2014; Mars, 2014; McGauley, 2015).


One of the things that struck me yesterday was that in addition to the traditional layout idea of “bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom” the signage in the demo-apartments referred to “solutions” as in “kitchen solutions, media solutions and sleeping solutions”, which is somewhat contradictory to the trends identified in the report by IKEA, that indicated a move towards hybrid functional spaces defined more by whether people wanted solitude or company than by their traditional function (IKEA, 2012).


Full demo-apartment

Floor plan

Solution spaces configuration 1

Solution spaces configuration 2

Clear signage and explanations

Instructions for self-packaging

But I like the idea of “solution” spaces. Especially for a library. It fits in a bit with the “campfire / watering hole / cave” ideas of Thornburg (2007) but I don’t think that goes far enough in providing users solutions for their learning needs. Yes it does allow for a variation in pace and intensity and communal versus individual effort, and facilitates knowledge gathering through listening, collaboration or research but are these solution spaces? I’d argue they aren’t. That’s not to say we haven’t by accident or design created solution spaces in the library. Thinking to the user needs in the secondary library where I worked:

  • Finding books to read for pleasure at the right interest / ability level
  • Hanging out with friends in an air-conditioned space (we live in the tropics!)
  • Having a “third space” that wasn’t home or classroom
  • Playing games (on-line and physical)
  • Lounging around reading dip-in dip-out books such as comics, graphic novels and poetry
  • Mother tongue resources
  • Resources – physical and online for school units or assignments
  • Resources – physical and online for personal questions or interests
  • Information literacy / literacy assistance for completing assignments to a high standard including academic honesty and scholarly value added.
  • ? more that I’ve not thought of at the moment.


With respect to the library space, I think we met most of the needs in a satisficing way given the constraints of space, resources and person-power. But I’d argue that if we were to combine the concepts of the omnichannel with solution spaces after careful observation and involvement of our users we could go so much further. Perhaps our library guides should have “hacking your grade 7 middle ages assignment” or “hacking citations”? Perhaps we should have a research zone where online and offline is seamlessly integrated with signage and demo-products?


These thoughts are in their infancy for me, somewhat half-formed and not “quite there” and I’d appreciate further comments and ideas and examples of where you’ve done this.


Bath, O. (2014, May 16). The Burberry model: why blending online and offline boosts success [Web Log]. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://wallblog.co.uk/2014/05/16/the-burberry-model-why-blending-online-and-offline-boosts-success/

Butler, S. (2014, February 21). Independent bookshops in decline as buying habits change [Newspaper]. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/feb/21/independent-bookshops-campaign

Carlyle, R. (2015, May 1). The secret of Ikea’s success [Newspaper]. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://www.express.co.uk/life-style/life/560828/Ikea-history-Swedish-furniture-design

Davis, S. (2014, March 27). Burberry’s Blurred Lines: The Integrated Customer Experience [Newspaper]. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottdavis/2014/03/27/burberrys-blurred-lines-the-integrated-customer-experience/

Day, K. (2013, November). Liberate your book cupboards and create a more true “bookstore” model in your school library? [Web Log]. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from http://www.thelibrarianedge.com/libedge/2013/11/liberate-your-book-cupboards-and-create.html

Gopnik, A. (2015, June 12). When a Bookstore Closes, an Argument Ends – The New Yorker [Newspaper]. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/when-a-bookstore-closes-an-argument-ends

IKEA. (2012). What goes on behind closed doors – Life at home in the UK (p. 23). United Kingdom. Retrieved from http://www.ikea.com/ms/en_GB/img/site_images/about_ikea/PDF/What%20goes%20on%20behind%20closed%20doors_Report_Spreads.pdf

IKEAHackers.net. (2014). IKEA Hackers – Clever ideas and hacks for your IKEA. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://www.ikeahackers.net/

Johnson, D. (2013). Power Up! The New School Library. Educational Leadership, 71(2), 84–85. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct13/vol71/num02/The-New-School-Library.aspx

Kindschy, H. E. (2015, January 13). Time to Ditch Dewey? Shelving Systems that Make Sense to Students (Learning Commons Model, Part 4) [Web Log]. Retrieved July 26, 2015, from http://www.clcd.com/blog/?p=186

Mars, R. (2014, August 19). Hacking IKEA [Podcast]. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/hacking-ikea/

McGauley, J. (2015, February 19). Easy IKEA Hacks For Your Apartment – Best DIY Projects [Web Log]. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://www.supercompressor.com/home/easy-ikea-hacks-for-your-apartment-best-diy-projects

Miller, L. (2013, January 31). Bring back shushing librarians [Newspaper]. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://www.salon.com/2013/01/31/bring_back_shushing_librarians/

Thornburg, D. (2007, October). Campfires in cyberspace: Primordial metaphors for learning in the 21st Century. TCPD. Retrieved from http://tcpd.org/Thornburg/Handouts/Campfires.pdf

West, P. (2013, November 20). Libraries: a plea from a silence seeker [Newspaper]. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/libraries_a_plea_from_a_silence_seeker/14317#.Vb2l6JOqqko

Williams, G. (2014, March 19). Why the online/offline split no longer matters [Newspaper]. Retrieved August 2, 2015, from http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2014/03/features/ecommerce-is-history

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