Why We Buy: Applying the Science of Shopping to Libraries

Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping is on my reading list this month but it deserves its own post.  It has inspired a great deal of thinking about what we measure, why and how we use it to declare ourselves successful (or not).

Please note there is a newer version of this title, Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond, but I am reading the older one because it is what my library had, I will be requesting the newer one.

As I listen to this I can’t help apply much of the science of shopping and buying to libraries. Like many retail stores we declare our success and failure based on the numbers reported by  the cash register or generated by frequent buyer accounts or credit card reports (ILS stats anyone?)

I am not even half way through this book and I already have a long is a list of questions about our physical spaces. Some of these we track on our websites or talk about when we talk about information seeking behavior but not when we talk about physical space.  Here are a just a few:

  • Why did they come to the library?
  • A specific title? Did they find it?
  • Did they get something in addition to the goal title?
  • Did they get something else? Why?
  • Browsing? Where did they start? Why?
  • What did they pick up? Why?
  • Put back down? Why?
  • What did they select eventually? Why?
  • What areas of the library are browsed the most? How does this compare to the areas with the most check outs?
  • How does the location of the aisle and PACs affect their experience?
  • Where do they get frustrated and give up?
  • What are the traffic patterns in the library? Are they moving through the building like we think? If not do we need to move our signage?
  • How often to they approach one desk only to be redirected to another?


  1. Barbara Henry · ·

    Why We Buy Kindle edition looks to be the old edition from 2000. B&N Nook has 2008 as ebook. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Why-We-Buy/Paco-Underhill/e/9781416561743/?itm=1&USRI=why+we+buy


  2. Hi Bobbi,

    You might be interested in some of the resources at: http://www.mls.lib.il.us/consulting/envirosell.asp, particularly “Best Practices for the Customer Focused Library ” (which I’ve been reading and re-reading– very inspiring!)


  3. Thank you Peter, I’ll check it out!


  4. will manley · ·

    Bobbi, these are excellent questions – just the ones that libraries must be able to answer to give optimum customer service. The problem lies in the time and expense of data collection. It’s a great opportunity for LIS schools and LIS students to do some valuable and useful real world research. Our profession needs a much closer alliance between academia and the real world.


  5. I agree all of these activities are time intensive LIS student is a great solution!


  6. Laura Johnson · ·

    There is a study of library usage done by Underhill’s firm. See http://www.webjunction.org/events/webinars/webinar-archives/-/articles/content/49775033.


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