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Patron’s Book Browsing Habits

Jan - 22 - 2010
Nicole C. Engard

I got this email from a cousin of mine and I really wanted to share it with you all and see what you’ve experienced.

Just got back from the library choosing a couple of “relaxing” books. As I browsed, I had these thoughts and then decided I’d send them to the family librarian :).

Has anyone ever done a study about how people choose a book to check out? If one goes to the library with no particular book or author in mind, is she influenced by the appearance of the book—pictures on the spine, looks new/old, likes the pictures on the cover? And what about those books that have part of the title or the author’s name covered by the shelving sticker? (Don’t know what you really call that sticker, but you know the one–author, call number where applicable, etc.)

Do people pull the book off the shelf to see the rest of the words on the cover? Then there are the books on the top shelf above your head and on the bottom shelf down by the floor. Are they checked out as much as the ones on the middle shelves that can be viewed easily? Would you rather have a book that has something about the story on the back cover or one that doesn’t give you a hint?

I know I have a tendency to choose newer-looking books with pleasant covers. I’d only pull the book off the shelf if the words I could see on the spine sounded interesting. I’d rarely choose a book on the top shelf because I’d have to go hunt up a step stool. Sometimes I get one off the bottom shelf if I can see the title without having to get down on the floor. (At my age, I might have to just STAY on the floor!) And I like that info on the back–just in case it’s about something I don’t want to read about. I

know–I have too much time on my hands! I should use it to think about world problems or something. Ha! If I wrote a book, I’d want it to have a pretty cover and be on a middle shelf–preferably in the Large Print section so I could see the words! :)

I thought this was great. I didn’t go looking for any particular research on the topic because I was out of town and just got home, but I love starting with my fellow librarians anyway! What do you all think? What have you seen patrons doing? What do you do?

I personally will get on the floor (and sit down there for as long as it takes) if the shelve of books on the topic I want is down there. I don’t pay any attention to spine labels – except to find the location of a specific book. When it comes to fiction I too look for pretty or new covers – but if the book doesn’t have a summary – as so many new books seem to be missing – I won’t borrow or buy the book … I need to know what the darn thing is about – not what some other author thought of the book.

7 Responses so far.

  1. This is not exactly the type of study you mention, but I’d recommend looking at Marcia Bates’ work on browsing. One article you can start with is “What is browsing— really? A model drawing from behavioural science research” (http://informationr.net/ir/12-4/paper330.html).

  2. pollyalida says:

    Love this! Much of what your cousin said rings true with me. If I’m wandering through fiction, it’s got to have an appealing spine to get me to reach way up or down. Though having really long arms helps! :) Appealing covers get my attention, but summaries of the plot and recommendations by favorite authors & respected reviewers trump the covers.

    Face out shelving of new books is great, but the new books section always induces stress for me. I know I’ll never get a new book back within the time limit and then I’ll feel guilty about keeping them out overdue. (extended use fee vs overdue fines – don’t get me started on the language we librarians use!)

    For non-fiction, my forays into the stacks are usually more targeted and I’ll grab a whole stack from the section I’m interested in and find a chair to sit and look at them all. Can’t do the sitting on the floor thing anymore!

  3. J Stephens says:

    Very interesting. I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to check out (or buy) a book if there is a summary on the back or dust jacket. No summary – probably won’t bother with it. Catchy titles and graphics do grab my attention, and I’ve been guilty of looking only on the middle shelves as well.

  4. Marnie says:

    To help browsers we:
    – Put at least one book face out on every shelf where there is room, fiction and non-fiction; new book shelves and old.
    – Do displays of read-alikes on the ends of stacks
    – Don’t charge extended use fees or fines, just encourage folks to renew as long as no one else is waiting
    – Have had a semi-permanent display of “books from the bottom shelves”; we may have more folks with trouble bending than have trouble stretching. but it may be time for a “books from the top shelves” display. My wish is for a new library with no need to use either the top or bottom shelves for years.
    – Use shelf-talkers for authors, not for titles. If you do titles and someone borrows the book, you induce frustration. If an author has multiple titles, the browser can always take another book by the author.
    – Weed for condition as well as lack of circulation. Often we replace an old hardcover title with a nice looking paperback. Someone just donated all of Alexander Kent’s series — lovely, new-looking paperbacks. We replaced the ratty old hardcovers.
    -Create displays, displays and more displays.

    But personally I look for the 19 cm. titles like Amy Ephron’s Cup of Tea that look as if they won’t take months to read. They are easy to find on the shelf—top. bottom, and middle. My colleagues all tease me about reading short books. And I do judge a book by its cover. Black, red and white covered true crime titles are very low on my personal to-be-read list. The light, flowery covers of Katie Fforde lighten up a dark winter day.

  5. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Nicole Engard and infopeep, Debbie Woodall. Debbie Woodall said: What I Learned Today… » Blog Archive » Patron's Book Browsing Habits http://bit.ly/4HZ89M [...]

  6. Alex Grigg says:

    I like all of the things that Marnie says she(?)’s doing. They all sound pretty good.

    Personally, I just don’t do much browsing anymore. I tend to stick to the authors and subjects I like and then find that section and pick something.

    For the occasional browsing I do, I find myself much more drawn to the hard cover books that still have the dust jackets on them. I know that keeping the jackets is standard practice in most public libraries now, but the academic libraries do seem to still feel that they can all be tossed in the trash. Very frustrating! I know, intellectually, that the content is still the same, but I’m still less likely to grab that jacket-less book off the shelf.

    I’m of average height and still fairly bendy so I don’t have much of an issue with high or low shelves. I don’t think you can help but notice the books at eye level more, but a lot of libraries are moving toward less tall shelving to give the place a more open feel. At the public branch closest to me that was recently renovated all of the shelving is at eye level or below. That does make sense to me since it will always be easier to get books that are on low shelves rather than books that are too high. It is also probably better for handicap accessibility.

  7. Nicole's Cousin says:

    You’d be proud of me. I went to the library this afternoon to get enough books to see me through our upcoming winter storm. I intentionally searched the top and bottom shelves and gave consideration to the “ugly” old brown or green books. (You know the ones!) I was amused to see, among the “uglies”, a copy of Peyton Place. Although no one would give it a second thought today, that book was scandalous when I was in 9th grade. My mother refused to let me read it, but we all sat around on the steps at school and read the “good parts” from a copy that someone had managed to obtain. Then I went to Oklahoma City in the summer to visit my aunt and uncle (Mother’s older sister) and got them to buy it for me. Guess I forgot to mention I wasn’t supposed to read it! Now I can’t even remember what it was about or what was so bad about it. I did pat myself on the back for choosing 5 books off the top shelf (but they were new, pretty ones. )


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