‘Cultural Weeding’ Workshop

A few months back, I attended a full day workshop through the School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV). It was called ‘Cultural Weeding’ and was run by Kevin Hennah, who also authored the book ‘Rethink’.

Kevin is a consultant, originally from the retail field, who works with libraries to rethink and upgrade their layout and culture for the 21st Century. His workshop “showcases forward thinking and innovative initiatives. A collection of ideas that…need to be embraced or at least considered in order to keep libraries relevant for many years to come.” While I focus mainly on the school library, these ideas are also easily applicable to public and other libraries.

I found this workshop incredibly inspirational. At the time I was working as a Library Technician at a high school and so was unable to really implement many of the fabulous ideas Kevin outlined. I really wish my supervisor had been available to attend this workshop too, as I think it really could have ‘opened a can of worms’ and created some great discussion and ideas about how we can bring our library up to speed!

However, I thought there were so many valuable ideas that shouldn’t be waste, that I created a proposal for my library to work towards in the future. This proposal detailed different areas of the library (such as our entrance, reading area, signage, culture/attitude, collections etc) and what could be done, in a modest budget, to improve them utilising what was learned at this workshop. These changes would not only keep our library relevant, but ensure our library was at the forefront of high school libraries.

Here is a summary of the general take-away points from the workshop and book: 

  • Being innovate and open to new ideas is really important when running a library during these rapidly changing times. The internet has changed how things are done, and libraries not only need to keep up but try to lead the way. Kevin suggested that things like a Reference section are outdated. What is the point of having dusty old encyclopedias, when current up-to-date information is available at the click of the button, without all the wasted shelf space? Maybe keep one set, and weed the rest! Teacher Reference can have the same issue. Talk to staff, see what they want, perhaps they can take it to their department.
  • We need to be open to deleting, removing and weeding. We add many new resources and services but tend to hold on to the old as well. Ideally – a new book in, an old book out! Non-fiction books from years ago with drab covers which haven’t been borrowed forever? weed them! replace them with something else if that information is still needed. Still have VHS tapes? get rid of them! Got maps? Use Google Earth. Old unused music CD’s? Get iTunes. etc
  • Visual merchandising is very important. Many libraries are turning to the ‘book shop’ model as it is more user friendly for patrons. Books are displayed front facing, usually organised by genre not Dewey (shock horror!). The library can only effectively showcase a certain number of books.
  • Clear and specific signage should be used – and it should be consistent. Don’t hand make signs, purchase vinyl decals or signage and have a uniform look. Use the same font across things. Add colour with funky patterns on furniture or cushions. Paint a wall. You need a fresh, vibrant and contemporary image.
  • Shelving should be short, you should be able to see over the top! No dust covers, no aisles. Ends of shelves should have front facing showcase displays – slatwall is great for this!
  • Look at the user traffic. If people are always walking a certain path through the library, utilise this. Organise furniture to direct them to more places, put book displays (such as a ‘hot picks’ or ‘NEW’ stand) near the entrance etc. Books need to look appealing and accessible.
  • Provide power and charging stations!
  • Design Essentials:
    • Bold, contemporary external signage
    • A colour scheme that won’t date fast or lock you into a fixed layout
    • Flexible and movable furnishings and fit out
    • Adequate (and hopefully clever) lighting – especially natural lighting
    • Avoid huge service/circulation desks (and don’t have a ‘circulation desk’ sign on it!)
  • Furniture: Maximise flexibility. Have furniture and shelves on wheels so you can re-shape the space for different purposes. Seating should be like a shared lounge, create small seating pods not large conservative clusters. Use interesting fabrics and textures. Provide collaborative spaces and meeting rooms. Being able to plug into a shared screen is great! Also provide areas for private and quiet study. Provide powerpoints. Provide a story-telling space and class spaces – but do not simply replicate classrooms. The library needs to provide something unique.
  • Provide wireless internet!
  • Wall mounted screens can be utilised to show the news, alongside magazines and newspapers. These can also be used for displays and promotion – digital messages or book trailers etc.  This saves time and looks professional and contemporary.  It is also more effective than static paper messages. Keep it short and simple, use pictures.
  • Tertiary libraries can link their library to a cafe, this could perhaps work in some secondary schools too…
  • Attitude is important. Challenge everything, be innovative, try new things. Don’t get stuck in an old-fashioned mindset, don’t be scared of new initiatives. Try things like RFID and self-check; these won’t make you redundant. Also – avoid negativity! Don’t have lists of rules and big signs with red crosses over things (like NO BAGS, NO FOOD etc) – steer user perception to think the library is a positive and enjoyable place!
  • Branding: This idea works alongside the discussion of signage being uniform, consistent and professional. Create a graphic/logo or text and be consistent in the use of this – brand your library. you can use this in letterheads, business cards, uniforms, signage etc. Try to avoid predictable concepts like books though – keep it simple and only a few colours.
  • check out Kevin’s products such as great signage and display options on his site: Merchandising Libraries. We have purchased some subject area signs for the non-fiction area and they look fantastic.

So there you have it. So many useful ideas and such an inspirational workshop. Libraries that have implemented these tips have found a increase in circulation and visitors. If you have the opportunity to attend one of Kevin’s workshops please do – his presentation and the pictures/library examples he shows really add so much to the info I’ve written here.

For me, it really comes down to a can do attitude. “Libraries are going through a renaissance, both in terms of the social infrastructure they provide and in terms of a diversification of the services and experiences offered. They are playing an increased role in the provision of collaborative work spaces and innovation. They are evolving into hubs for education, entertainment and work.” (Read the Future Libraries publication by Arup). We, as the caretakers in this field, need to be willing to adapt, change, innovate and lead.

I hope this gave you some inspiration to change some small and simple things in your library to keep relevant in today’s rapidly changing world!

Tune in next time when I discuss using Springshare’s ‘LibGuides’ as a (school) Library homepage and website.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Michelle De Aizpurua


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