Written by Jimmie Epling   

“Stop by Our Showroom Today for the Latest…”

By Jimmie Epling

How many times have you heard a commercial end with “stop by our showroom (or store) today to experience the latest (or best) in…”?  Did it inspire you to go take a look?  You may not want to admit it, but you know on occasion you did go take a look.  Well let me direct you to possibly the best showroom around for great reads, the Darlington County Library System.  

It once was there were many showrooms for readers to find stories.  They varied in size.  Some could hardly be called showrooms.  Remember that spinner rack with paperbacks in a corner of the local supermarket or drug store.  When I was a little boy, I discovered on my way to the fifth floor where the toys were sold that the big department store had lots of shelves of books on the first floor.  Many towns had a shop offering a variety of books for sale.  Large cities often had several showrooms, some highlighting the new and others with slightly worn covers.  And of course, there was the local public library, where readers could find a multitude of stories to borrow.  This world came to an end with the rise of shopping centers and malls in the late 1970s.  Multi-floor department stores began to disappear as big box discount stores with racks of inexpensive paperbacks and the book superstores appeared. 

The “book sellers”, like Waldenbooks, Borders, B. Dalton, Joseph-Beth, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and others led the way in the 1980s by creating a shopping experience for customers in their stores.  They took merchandising techniques used by other successful retailers and used them to sell a huge number of best sellers and to encourage customers to try some relatively unknown writers.  These mega-stores included cafés, lots of seating, newsletters, readers’ guides, and special author events.  They were so successful that libraries realized they must shed their “warehouse” of books image to compete.  Libraries became showroom merchandizers focused on creating an experience for their customer.  Some even went so far as to open their own café!  The formula worked very well for many years for the superstores (Borders reached 1,200 stores at its height) and public libraries.  When online bookseller Amazon.com appeared in 1995, it changed everything.   

With no showrooms to maintain, a larger inventory, and the convenience of online ordering from anywhere,Amazon.com was able to capture a large share of the market for books.  It was so successful that showrooms like Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Borders have disappeared.  Barnes & Noble has struggled to compete, introducing the NOOK e-reader and shifting a good portion of its showroom space over to toys and novelties. As of 2013, toys accounted for almost a quarter of Barnes & Noble’s revenue. 

Where can readers go now to casually browse among thousands of stories with their colorful covers?  There are still some independent and mega-stores you can visit, but they are often not nearby.  It won’t be the big box stores, like Walmart and Target, as you will find only the current bestselling stories on their shelves.  And it won’t be atAmazon.com where browsing its almost unlimited inventory is limited by the size of your device’s screen, its battery life, and an Internet connection.  So where can you go to find a place dedicated to reading stories in all their forms and enjoy that showroom experience where you can browse to your heart’s content?  It is the Library. 

The Darlington County Library System welcomes at least 300,000 visitors each year, young and old, through our doors.  Many are in search of a good story to read.  They come because they know good stories can be found within our showrooms in Darlington, Hartsville, Lamar, and Society Hill. 

What makes a public library the perfect showroom for readers to visit?  Our customers can browse at their leisure in a place with a pleasant atmosphere and take one of the many seats available to read for hours.  In “The Case For Libraries” by David Vinjamuri (Publishers Weekly. Apr 3, 2015), he notes public libraries “are the most trusted institution in America.”  A 2012 Pew survey found that libraries are more trusted than any other institution, including the military, churches, and the police.  It should come as no surprise then that library staff are “the most trusted source for book referrals.”  Whether you are in search of a tale of romance, mystery, international intrigue, horror, fantasy, or of “Cat in the Hat,” you know when you enter the Library no pushy salesperson out to make a commission will materialize out of seemingly thin air to steer you to “buy” an expensive item.  There is always a helpful staff member nearby at our Library to help with a bit of advice on a good read and to help find that special story that initially brought you through our doors.  Given a choice, would you rather trust an Amazon.com reader review or the recommendation of a Library staff member?

Unlike most bookstores and discount stores, public libraries buy very broadly.  When you browse the Library’s showroom, you are going to find a diverse and varied collection.  Our goal is to have a collection that reflects what the residents of Darlington County want.  There is something for everyone.  We don’t just buy the best sellers.  If we did, then the stories written by many popular authors would never be seen on our shelves.  A survey of the New York Times bestsellers hardcover fiction and mass market lists from June 2008 through June 2014 revealed of the nearly 16,000 spots on the list, were filled by works from less than 650 authors.  When you come to our showroom, we guarantee you will find something you will enjoy reading.  If by chance we do not have it, submit a request through our “wish list” program and we will likely buy it.  If it can’t be bought, we will get it for you through interlibrary loan…all at no charge. 

What is surprising about visitors to public library showrooms is that they are not just borrowers, they are also buyers.  Studies suggest that over 60% of frequent library users have also bought a book written by a favorite author they first discovered while browsing the Library’s showroom.  Also, that book was most likely a hardback version of that author’s latest story too!  Roughly a third of people who bought a book in the last month also read one from the library in that same month.  The Library’s showroom is an ideal place to discover new stories by your favorite author and those writers who will become your favorite authors. 

In this world of high intensity marketing of just about everything via social media, electronic billboards, gas station or shopping cart TV, television shopping networks, and the Internet, the showroom shopping experience is being lost.  The many pleasures of leisurely browsing for something you want is becoming more difficult as there seems to be fewer and fewer showrooms every year.  The Darlington County Library System is your showroom for great stories you can borrow to read.  If you haven’t visited in a while, then make a point of dropping by for an experience you will not find anywhere else.       

April 20, 2015 

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 30 December 2015 )