Book Displays: Arranging “The Wall”

Book displays may take different forms. In this series of posts I present a gallery of types, which will serve as an illustrative overview of the Genus (if you will) Displaius libraratus.

What is the point of a book display? In the first post I compared a book display to the sand mandala. Both are made to be viewed, both encourage positive energies in the viewer, and both end (in the case of a successful display) being deconstructed. The sand is carried off by the river, and the books by library patrons.

Arranging The Wall

The flat, vertical arrangement emphasises the basic element of almost any book display, the cover. This is obvious. The cover sells the book, or should. But many covers, side by side, row after row, can easily fail to arrest the eye.

By arranging books in any old fashion, you risk ending up with the boring, “some-books” effect. In other words, people will stroll by your display and see not this book, or that book, but rather — some books. And because everyone is busy, they move on without a second glance. You want to avoid this! Remember that the title, the subject, the author: these only matter when someone bothers to stop and consider them. Your tools are visual. Colour. Depth. Height. Width. Detail.

Arranging The Wall — some guidelines

  1. Keep it simple. Don’t pack in too many books. Instead, choose a few very large ones, like photography books.
  2. Do pack in too many books. A row of same-size books, with splashes of colour here and there, can be striking. Place them right together with no space between.
  3. Size creatively. Make a row of large books, then a row of small ones, then some wide books, and so on. Or stagger small and large books on the same row. Or try making columns over several rows.
  4. Vary the depth. Tilt some of the books forward a bit by placing up-turned stands behind them. It draws attention not just to the pushed-out books but to those around them, as well. It also reduces the glare of overhead lighting.
  5. Direct the viewer. Just one close-up photograph, especially of a human face, will arrest the eye. Our gaze is drawn to faces.
  6. Pay attention to colour. Say you have twenty white books and twenty blue ones. Checker them and you will make an arresting display. Uncomplicated patterns will tempt the mind to stop, look, make sense of it. But if, in one spot, you place two whites and two blues together, the eye will go there. The slight breaking of this simple pattern — or even a wall of dark covers with a single light one — draws the eye further. On the other hand, the random presentation of pictures and colours usually overstimulates and obscures, rather than showcases.
  7. Bigness (shape) and simplicity are your friends. Intricate landscapes, groups of people, most rooms — this type of detail won’t be very noticeable or intelligible at a glance. Huge letters, shapes, forms, or single colours are striking. Doesn’t mean you won’t display landscape photography well: a selection of black and white covers with one or two colour ones among it will certainly inspire interest.
  8. Employ supermarket wisdom. Many patrons visit the library with children. Children grab things. Place books with fun or cartoony covers at stroller level for a good snag.
  9. Meaning and juxtaposition. Certain images carry value — a photograph of the President, for instance, or of a turkey. Just as flint and steel spark, two or more value-laden images can send off sparks of poignancy, humour, or controversy.

Arranging The Wall — special techniques

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Filed under Books, Memorial Library

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