Brodart, based in McElhattan, PA, and Opening the Book, based in Pontefract, England, launched the partnership at the Public Library Association conference held in Philadelphia March 13-17.
The agreement came about when Rachel Van Riel, the director of Opening the Book, was making a recent lecture tour of Canada where Brodart also does business, and she made contact with Chris Frantz, the director of marketing and sales for Brodart.
Brodart traveled to the UK to review libraries using the furniture line.
“I could see something that had a European flair to it to bring back to the US, something we would be very proud to represent under our name, but a design that has already been established, researched, and proven to work,” Frantz said.
Opening the Book has a database of 30,000 patron interviews, according to Van Riel, and the information gleaned from those interviews informed the company’s approach to furniture design.
In the interviews, five patrons are asked to explain how they chose one of the individual titles they are checking out that day.
“What we see is this huge number that say I chose it from a display. You just get it over and over,” Van Riel said.
Van Riel partnered with Helen Thomas, who has a background in retail sales, in order to tap into what their research showed was large-scale impulse borrowing in the UK.
“We discovered that UK libraries didn’t have the right equipment to do the job they were trying to do,” Van Riel said. “So we looked at how we could adapt best of retail practice into libraries,” she said.
But she and Thomas both emphasized that the retail practice has to be adapted to fit the library mission.
“We regard it as a key cultural role of the library to open up reading choices. The library is not there just to have the multiple bestsellers, otherwise it’s no different from a bookstore,” Van Riel said. “The strength of a library is the variety and the backshop that it’s got and we have to find ways of celebrating that. That’s what the library is for, to help people discover books that they didn’t know about,” she said.
Brodart has prepared book lists to help populate specific pieces of furniture, and Frantz said that this is the first time in many years all the Brodart divisions are working together on a single project.
The Opening the Book reading hideaway (photo), a piece for children that costs $3,395, got a lot of attention at PLA, they said. All the furniture is being manufactured in Pennsylvania.