Marketing consultant Julia Cooper contacted me a while ago about an article she wrote for Marketing Library Services called "How to Evaluate Your Library's Physical Environment." In her article, Julia outlines 5 broad areas librarians should address in managing their spaces: the big picture, the outdoors, the public services landscape, the target market landscapes, and the internal customer landscape. Space management is critical in marketing services because spaces are one of the few tangible indicators patrons have of the service quality they should expect from you. For this reason, I was happy to link to Julia's article, but I was even happier that she agreed to an e-mail interview so that I could ask her some follow-up questions. Here is our exchange:
Jill: From a marketing standpoint, what role does space play in service transactions?
Julia: Marketing is all about tapping into and meeting customer's needs, so SPACE is one method by which service is delivered. Designing different spaces is a form of communication to the user. Thus, by conducting space planning, a marketer can help direct service. For example, by laying out the parking lot with a round-about at the entrance--the implicit communique is "this is where you stop and drop off or pick up passengers." The service is implied and intuitive. The easier it is to tell [customers] what to do in the space the better the service experience! Putting barriers, such as service desks and displays in the pathway of foot traffic is important too.
Jill: What is the most common mistake librarians make in designing their spaces and how do you recommend overcoming it?
Julia: Well, in general, I would recommend that librarians take a more strategic and active approach in designing spaces for their patrons, rather than depending on other professionals to lead the design process. Architects or salespeople, for example, have their own professional goals and motivations (such as winning design awards/sales quotas). I recommend employing consultants or other 3rd parties to gather information from the end-users, including both internal and external customers, and using library day-to-day operations on the front lines to direct design strategy and implementation.
Jill: I believe that understanding your patrons' basic demographic characteristics (age, gender, etc.) can give you some insights into how to manage your spaces, but demographics alone only scratch the surface and rarely result in compelling or innovative strategies. That's why I was particularly interested in the fact that your article addressed patrons' lifestyles. You ask, for example, "If there is a large population of young parents, should you add a stroller parking pad? Is everyone a pet owner, but you have no pet-friendly space?" Have you seen any examples of how libraries or other businesses have done an exceptional job of addressing lifestyle with their spaces?
Julia: Jill, this is a great follow-up question to my point in Question 2. Whether one is considering an addition, using space already available, or starting from scratch, focus on the customer's needs and activities, that come together to create their lifestyle. (That is why doing marketing research is so important.) There are lots of examples in the corporate world, such as providing workout facilities with windows overlooking busy avenues/nature or walking paths around the grounds for employees. Employees are customers too and by focusing on healthy lifestyle choices, workers are more productive.
In general, people with similar belief systems congregate at work, but especially where they live. That means that lifestyle activities can be supported by the community library as well. We have always excelled at focusing on the children's area of the library, for example having solitary reading nooks, a giant plastic whale to climb, castle doors opening to a collection, beanstalks with reference to fables, etc. that lead to a fairy tale land of make-believe. We can be just as creative with other spaces too!
Jill: Those of us working in the same setting day-to-day might have a difficult time viewing our spaces with fresh eyes. In addition to evaluating the items you mention in your article, what approaches do you suggest for keeping a fresh perspective so that we can identify new opportunities to make our spaces more user-friendly?
Julia: First, one has to be receptive to taking a fresh look or to ask someone else for feedback. It really starts by the vision of the leaders in the library and if the physical environment of the library is considered to be part of the service mix or not. Also the atmosphere is important in staying responsive to customer needs, rather than the attitude of "that is how is always has been." To keep a fresh perspective, though, it starts by thinking that 1) not everything is set in stone, furniture can move, shelves can move, books can move, etc.2) you can make small changes in baby steps and see a difference 3) if you witness certain behavior patterns, observe & record it over a specific amount of time and then act--for example, if everyone cuts through the grass to reach your front door, then add a sidewalk there or brick path and 4) when in doubt, ASK the customer--not just one, but a sample. Finally, doing nothing is an option--but what is important is that you don't get complacent and don't stop looking for better ways to help people.
Jill: Could you talk more about the concepts of style and atmosphere and why they're so important in managing spaces effectively?
Julia: I could write a book on this topic--and maybe I will one day! Basically, style can be produced by manipulating principles and elements of design to create a balanced look and evoke feelings at its core. Atmosphere is more encompassing by adding the "personality"--through people, ambiance, all the senses in the setting. For example, Barnes & Noble Booksellers design a store with an alcove that can be used as seating for reading with coffee tables (to set your Starbucks, of course) and large windows for natural lighting. This area, too, can be converted to an author-signing space, a guest lecturer, a poetry night, a book club meeting, a guitarist solo on a stool, etc. The multi-functionality of the space presents a venue for adding to the bookstore atmosphere and acts as a destination place within the store itself. Thus, in this example, creating a certain atmosphere can bring about goodwill and brand loyalty in addition to repeat visits and sales. Likewise, the library can add more value to the patron experience by de-cluttering spaces to make them more visually appealing and approachable or add photos of historical sites in the community to create the sense of stability.
Jill: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the relationship between library spaces, patrons, and marketing strategy that wasn't expressed in the article?
Julia: Just to keep an open mind and to look around at examples everywhere--in your community or across the world--to get inspired. Then get focused and implement the ideas!
A big thank you to Julia for sharing the expertise she's gained from 10+ years of consulting experience. If you have additional questions, you can contact her at (614) 406-2252 or firstname.lastname@example.org. I know these interviews take a considerable amount of time and thought on the part of interviewees, so I extend my sincere thanks to all of you who have taken the time to share what you know on LM. I think we all benefit from sharing our ideas. I hope this information helps you think through your spaces strategically to make them more effective for your target audiences!