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Magazines > Marketing Library Services > January/February 2005

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Information Today
Vol. 19 No. 1 — Jan/Feb 2005
Customer-Based Marketing

Retail Interior Layout for Libraries
by Christie Koontz

My favorite grocery store offers a wonderful space of orientation upon entry. The wide doors open, and to the immediate right is free coffee plus copy and soft drink machines. To the left is check cashing, an ATM machine, and, for better or worse, Florida lottery tickets. Several yards ahead to the right are specialty foods (organic), and to the left, seasonal promotional items. The wide right-hand turn (that favors a world of right-handed people) sweeps you to toiletry and cosmetic items, dairy foods, and aisles of canned and packaged goods. The tour finishes with frozen foods and fresh bakery items, then checkout. The store offers convenience while communicating daily and seasonal products to customer markets. This grocery chain effectively employs the principles of retail interior layout. Why don't libraries?

What Retail Stores and Libraries Have in Common

We could benefit immensely from applying tried-and-true retail practices, especially since we have so much in common.

Organizational Goals: The overriding goal of most retail stores and libraries is to maximize the number of customers and profits. For libraries, profit is measured in the use of services and materials.

Means of Attracting Customers: The principal means of attracting customers is similar for retailers and librarians. They include the nature and size of the product lines (collection and services); special offerings to targeted groups (e.g., Spanish-language books for children of Hispanic families); convenient delivery of services (location of library and/or hours of access); and successful promotional messages directed to actual and potential customers (Web sites and direct mail to registered users).

Customer Satisfaction Tools: In order to retain customers and increase use, both retailers and librarians must satisfy customer wants and needs in the majority of transactions. Retailers identify three chief tools for generating satisfaction; these also apply to libraries: 1) the size and convenience of the facility; 2) adequate pricing strategies (how much time customers must expend to use our services); and 3) the interior layout of the materials and equipment, furnishings, and displays (effective for, but lesser used by, libraries).

Shopping Behavior: Retail and library customers also share shopping behaviors: 1) Our consumers seek to accomplish their goals with the least time and effort, and with the most convenience possible; and 2) increased customer traffic generates purchases within the retail store and the usage of materials and services within the library.

These shared characteristics show reasons for libraries to use retail-based interior layout principles. I'll explain two areas of customer behavior that underlie retail interior layout principles: customer traffic patterns and how these traffic patterns change with the category of goods being sought.

Customer Traffic Patterns

Library user traffic patterns parallel those of retail store customers. Library users can easily fall into these three retail categories:

1. Shopping traffic or browsers: Typically, shoppers compare information before selecting the item that's best for their purposes. Once a shopper has made a selection, proper layout might help to maintain her shopping state of mind and induce her to subconsciously continue her shopping behavior. In a library, this sort of user might seek interesting or useful materials by surfing the Internet, browsing shelves and examining items, and moving around slowly while assessing how valuable items are to her.

2. Destination traffic: These customers move with regular speed and direction, concentrate on the job, and cannot be distracted. They have a specific purpose or errand and are not deterred from it by surroundings or other library materials. It is difficult to convert destination traffic to shopping behavior.

3. Beeline traffic: A small number of visitors will be concentrating on goals external or unrelated to personal use of the library. These people could be messengers, delivery men, school safety inspectors, or maintenance workers. These people will not be users while they are performing their regular duties.

Retail Categories of Goods and Services

Now, here's how customer traffic can vary with respect to the broad categories of goods and services. Retailers classify goods and services as convenience, shopping, and specialty. Here are illustrative examples of these in the library world:

Convenience Shopping Specialty
Ready reference Reference materials Computer stations
Local newspapers Leisure books Assigned reading
Popular magazines Popular subjects Reserve materials
Online catalog Specific Web sites Study carrels


Here are user characteristics that are associated with each of these categories:

Convenience Shopping Specialty
Universal market Many users Fewer users
Easy access needed Need wide selection Unique materials
Frequent, quick use Need time to compare Infrequent need
Little assistance needed Need in-depth information Substitutes unsatisfactory

Users might display shopping or destination behavior with respect to each category of materials, but destination behavior is most often associated with convenience materials and nearly always with specialty materials. Shopping behavior occurs in the search for, and selection of, shopping material categories and sometimes with the other categories.

Incorporating Traffic Flow into Library Layout

Based on what you have read thus far, take a look around your library and see if you can envision this layout:

• It would be reasonable to display goods and services that need to be brought to users' attention at the front of the facility.

• To the right of the entrance should be new acquisitions; items that might be selected on impulse, such as fiction; items that fill highly specific needs and have no satisfactory substitutes; and items that require repeated exposure before users select them.

• On the left at the front should be items that probably will not be used unless there is maximum convenience for the user, such as the dictionary and the atlas and encyclopedia, and items that have heavy demand.

• The circulation desk should be on the left of the entrance, the last thing the user passes before exiting.

• The rear of the facility should house items for which user motivation is strong, such as classroom-assigned materials and meeting rooms, or for which the user is willing to spend time and effort obtaining, such as microfiche printouts. Also, materials and equipment that take large amounts of space, such as computer learning labs, should be at the back.

Retail Guidelines for Interior Layout

Based on customer traffic patterns, categories of goods and services, and user behavior, retailers have developed guidelines to use when designing store interiors.1 I'll review these as they might be applied in a library environment. Envision your own library as you read through these, and continue to contrast how your layout is similar and how it differs.

1. Main doorway is near the left side of the front of the facility as the user approaches.

2. There is space at the entrance for rapid orientation to the location of materials and services.

3. Wide main aisle is at 45 degrees to the right from the entrance, placed to utilize the common right-hand reflex and to provide easy movement for browsing and other shopping behavior.

4. The main or 45-degree aisle is arranged in a circular pattern to foster exposure to all the materials and services available to the customer.

5. Other aisles are arranged as hub and spokes within the main aisle to provide access to all parts of the facility.

6. There's an aisle from the entrance straight to the back of the library for faster-moving, goal-directed traffic and for separating browsers from those with specific errands to perform.

7. The designer used wide angles and curves in aisle arrangement in order to avoid the interruption of mental search activity that occurs at intersections in a grid pattern.

8. Transport to upper floors in a multistoried facility is at the curve of the 45-degree aisle at the right-hand wall and at the end of the straight aisle at the back of the room in order to facilitate speed and convenience of search for materials.

9. Ramps have been used instead of stairways in order to provide a smooth, clear path, thereby minimizing interruption of users' mental search process.

10. The circulation desk is adjacent to the main entrance/exit and is on the right as users leave the building. Materials are arranged so that users' search time and effort is enhanced and so that new and specialized materials are brought to the attention of the relevant user groups via placement and signs.

11. The designer has used wall color, lighting, floor-cover design, and signs to identify your products and to direct users.

This type of arrangement is constructed to maximize ease of movement, access to materials, and visibility to facilitate orientation.

When Are the Guidelines Best Used?

The principles can be employed in plans for new construction or remodeling. In recent years, many libraries of all types have been remodeled because of emerging technologies. Librarians are faced with the challenge and the opportunity of participating in space redesign. Often the changes are inexpensive and can largely come about by re-thinking who your customers are and what goods and services they are seeking when they come to the library.

Now, take all that we know thus far and apply it via this hypothetical school media center at Leon High School in a small community of 15,000.

Example: Small High School Media Center

The Situation and the Problem: The student body is only about 170 students in grades 8 through 12. Student traffic in the media center is relatively constant throughout the day. Seniors have more unassigned time than other students, and they spend some of it in the media center. The media center is easily accessible, and it houses the school's computer learning lab. Computer searching and special software programs are of primary interest to the students. The circulation rate for materials is low. The facility consists of a reading room (20 x 30 feet), an adjacent office (10 x 10 feet), and a darkroom (20 x 10 feet). The total space is 900 square feet. The reading room houses a collection of 3,000 hardcover and paperback books and periodicals, filmstrips, and a rather large assortment of equipment. There are partitions throughout in an attempt to create separate spaces. The staff is the media specialist and one assistant.

In the current facility, the acoustics are poor, signs and aids for orientation are inadequate, seating is limited, and organized class visits must occupy the reading room. In addition, the students tend to make more than the necessary number of inquiries of the media specialist because his office is just inside the entrance. Further expansion is limited by administrative offices on one side of the media center and the gymnasium on the other. Despite these obstacles, student enthusiasm for the media center remains high, as it is a place to congregate and to access the Internet.

Steps Toward a Solution: The media specialist requested the addition to the media center of an adjoining classroom that measured 600 square feet. He also requested an adjoining office of 18 x 10 feet. The enlarged space is expected to ease some problems with ongoing activities, and it will enhance the regular daily use of the media center for reference, research, and recreational purposes.

Layout Guidelines for the Media Center: The media specialist's request is granted, so now he has another 1,680 square feet. The guidelines and the new layout are prepared. The important features of the new layout include the following:

1. Partitions are removed to provide freer movement and better visibility.

2. The entrance is moved to the left to permit a long 45-degree right aisle for the shoppers. The main aisle follows a roughly circular route around the reading room. The straight aisle is for the errand-performing destination users and runs from the entrance to the rear of the facility to foster rapid and direct movement.

3. Seating for 34 users is provided, enough for 20 percent of the student body (but short of the 30 percent desired).

4. Heavy single-errand traffic for ready reference and casual recreational items is served at the front on the left. One dictionary is there and another is at the convergence of the aisles for the convenience of users in the seating area.

5. The computer learning lab is partitioned off at the rear for easy access from the destination traffic aisle and minimum distraction of users in the seating area.

6. The media specialist's office is at the rear for good visibility to complement the surveillance of the assistant at the circulation desk. A second benefit of that location is that casual interruptions of the media specialist's work can be reduced.

The New Layout Is Positive: The new layout, based on fundamentals of marketing, makes more effective use of the available space. The arrangement of materials, furnishings, and displays is designed to complement the characteristics of users and materials and the functions performed in the media center. The new layout is a primary means of generating media center use and user satisfaction.2

Some Libraries Already Employ Retail Layout

Recently, I had the pleasure of conducting a marketing workshop and a keynote address (on the subject of this article!) for the Kansas Library Association, College and University Libraries Section at the annual conference in Emporia, Emporia State University. While I was there, Cindi Hickey gave me a tour of the university library. Upon entry and to the immediate left was a fine-looking open reading space. The user is offered a delightful moment of beauty and orientation. To the right was convenient placement of the checkout desk and offices, as well as a bustling cafe. A flight of shallow stairs took us up to the reference desk, allowing for quick traffic for shopping and destination travel. Just upon first glance, this library employed guidelines 1, 2, 5, 8, 10, and 11.

How about yours? Take this article in hand. Categorize your goods and services, consider user behavior and current traffic patterns, and scan the guidelines. Now walk inside the front doors of your library and assess how your layout may or may not be bolstering customer satisfaction.



1. J. Barry Mason and Morris Mayer, Modern Retailing, 3d ed. Plano, Texas: Business Publications, 1984, pp. 680­682.

2. Persis E. Rockwood and Christine Koontz (Lynch), "Media Center Layout: A Marketing Based Plan," in School Library Media Annual 1986 Volume Four, ed. Shirley L. Aaron and Pat R. Scales: Libraries Unlimited, Inc., Littleton, Colorado.

Christie Koontz, Ph.D., is a research associate and director of the GeoLib Program at Florida State University in Tallahassee ( Koontz also teaches marketing at the School of Information Studies at Florida State University and conducts marketing workshops around the globe. Her e-mail address is

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