Visit to Wigan library and Waterstones

On Friday I visited Wigan library and Waterstones (in Wigan) to reserach the way people use the space in reference to the new ‘Nature’s library’ gallery being planned at Manchester Museum.  Here’s how I got on…

Wigan library opened in January 2012 and is the North West’s only newly built central library set to open this year.  The library is part of the Wigan Life Centre, a new public services “hub” incorporating leisure facilities, employment services and citizen’s advice.  

The library’s books are organised using the Dewey decimal system.  However, there are posters displayed on the edge of cases that suggest some concessions are being made to the BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) system of alphabetically-arranged categories.  But despite this, the fact that a floor divides the languages and travel sections of the library suggests Dewey’s dominance for now.

 Some categories at the library are sub-divided; for example, local history has a separate case.  The cases themselves seem very standard, with no real pattern to where they are located (apart from ‘reference’ titles being on the mezzanine floor).  ‘Explore’ is the key statement used as a logo throughout the library so maybe this is indication as to the seemingly random distribution of most categories.

 Standard categories seem to be used throughout.  One exception to this is the ‘Quick picks’ section near an entrance to the library.  This contains new books situated next to the automated issuing stations; presumably designed for a quick get-away.  This is not a tactic that the book chain Waterstones would ideally use; although the presence of new titles near the entrance to the shop suggests that ‘grab and go’ maybe a trait of some of their customers.  The Waterstones in Wigan is a far from being a flagship, and like the library, no drinking facilities exist within (unlike some larger shops).  Unusually for a chain, it has a local events board; and its community focus extends to displaying local authors and local interest books near the entrance to the shop.  More commercially-motivated reasons may explain why, unusually for most book shops, the sport section is the first BISAC category that one comes across upon entering.  This may be due to Wigan’s reputation as being a ‘sports mad’ town.  The BISAC system at Waterstones means that all the reference and study books can be in their own section.  Although the library has a ‘reference and research’ look to the mezzanine floor, some reference titles are missing.  But despite this there is ample desk space and this is where the majority of computers are located; giving the idea of a space to do research.

 Some of the feature displays at the library incorporate a degree of uncertainty; their randomness and lack of commonality unlike Waterstones’ more considered selections.  Both the library and Waterstones have displays focusing on whether film or print is best (less of a debate in the case of the retailer).  The library has selected some displays based upon their usefulness.  For example there is a display on employment literature; an effort to help with the town’s high unemployment.  Waterstones has a ‘What’s in the media’ section which is not found at the library, but this could be sales-focused as opposed to an altruistically-driven motive to address current issues.

 The seating in Waterstones is minimal (unlike the library), however they both share a strong children’s section with bright, colourful displays; play mats; activities; and soft toys all available to access.  The library also has a television and few books in their children’s room; set aside from the children’s reading section.  A mascot (Hal the frog) is the ring-master for the children’s section of the library.  The library has separate ‘learning zones’ which act like classrooms for activities and readings.

 Teenage fiction is incorporated into the children’s section in Waterstones (possibly due to restrictions in space) but there is a separate teenage section in the library with a games console and stools used for PC access (see below).

Figure 2: The cool and moody ‘teen section’ at the library

The idea of the teen section as a separate space is emphasised by the fact that (unlike the children’s section) it is ‘walled off’ from anywhere else.  The additional space may allow the library to address the needs of specific groups in specific ways; without losing any of its inclusiveness.

 The larger space of the library gives many other benefits too.  More books can be displayed with their covers showing (particularly art and design); and there is scope to be more deliberate with seating plans than Waterstones’ miserly comfy-chair allocation.  The main seating area in the library is in a row format (see below) and I’m unsure as to the benefits of this system as opposed to having seating within the book cases themselves.  It’s a little too ‘airport departure lounge’ for my tastes; and suggests that people engage with the material aware from where it is sourced.  The people using the space I observed were not looking at books from the collection.

Figure 3: This is the final call for interesting seating arrangements…

Overall, I think both the library and Waterstones offer an interesting look at how people engage with the literature on offer.  Exploring the collection; current affairs; dealing with specific groups; and targeted displays are all apparent to some degree or another when considering what experiences these two can offer their respective customers.

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About Trainee Curator

I will be writing a blog about the next twelve months spent as a trainee biological curator based at Manchester Museum.
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