Library book displays are nothing new, so it seems silly in a way to dedicate a blog post to it. But I thought I might share my experience as a way of encouraging academic libraries in particular to try something similar. College students are avid readers, as are faculty and staff.
Also, I've heard from friends in the publishing industry that interest in country house sagas and the Edwardian era is starting to wane. This is hardly a scientific experiment, but if the success of this project is any indication, this isn't true as far as readers are concerned.
Here are pics of both sides. I started out with 16 titles purchased just for the display (ordered by my colleague Pam, who oversees our popular reading collections). They were mostly trade paperbacks, both fiction and nonfiction. Then I supplemented them with more titles we already had in our collections, for a total of 22 in all. I was fortunate to be given a visible spot on the library's main level, right near the circulation desk. At the top were two signs I had fun creating: "Looking for something to read while waiting for Season 5?" and "Reading Fit for a Dowager Countess."
The display went up on Monday, March 3rd. By Tuesday afternoon, half of the titles had been checked out. By the end of the week, only six titles remained, and the exhibit was looking very picked over. So I pulled more relevant titles from our Read & Relax (paperback) and Bestsellers (hardcover) collections to fill up the display again, and anything that looked like it would remotely fit went in. (For example, Philippa Gregory's Fallen Skies; a couple by Jacqueline Winspear. We had many other WWI-era novels in our main stacks, but without covers, so I didn't include many of them. Books on display without covers tend to sit there.) I replenished it twice more, and took away some unused display stands so it didn't look quite so empty. Some returned items came back to the display. Still, by the end of March, only three books were left. It was impossible to keep it filled. Almost everything added was checked out immediately.
On April 1st, I created a MS Access report to look at the circulation (i.e., number of checkouts) of all 32 items that were on the display at some point. During the month, all but three titles had been checked out at least once, and many of them had been checked out twice.
I hope to revisit this display next winter, just before Season 5 starts... and next time, I'll be ready with even more books to include. My next project is a display on novels set in the 1960s, both historical fiction as well as fiction that was written back then and gives a good sense of the era. The library is organizing a large-scale exhibit and speaker series on the '60s for the fall, so this will be part of it. I don't know if that book display will be as popular as the Downton one was, but I'll be curious to see how it turns out.