Prime your library to gain readers

Further to my previous post about using psychology to improve reading I thought I’d continue looking at ways in which we could use these theories to improve reading and our libraries.

One area that I love the idea of is priming. It comes from the misconception that you are actually aware when you are being influenced by something and how this affects your behaviours. In reality we are completely unaware of the constant nudging we receive from the ideas that are formed in our subconscious mind.

My favourite illusionist/mentalist is Derren Brown and it is this that he relies on so much to perform a lot of his work. For any of those that have watched his shows I was particularly taken with how he used this knowledge in the Hero at 30,000 feet episode. In this he created a belief in an ordinary young man that he had the potential to seize opportunities and be better than he ever thought was possible. Derren uses this gentle nudging of the sub conscious all the way through the episode. If you haven’t watched it I would certainly urge you to seek it out.

This is happening all the time everywhere we go and there are certain people and organisations that know and use this to their advantage. Advertisers are a prime example but so are places such as casino’s, probably the best example. What they do so well is to prime their customers by playing certain sounds very loud. As soon as you walk into a casino you are blasted with a cacophony of postive happy sounds. These are sounds of people being happy, sounds of money coming out of machines, of people winning. All of this gives the customer a feeling that they too can win and encourages them to want to be part of that feeling.

So the question is, if everyone else is using this knowledge can we, on libraries do the same thing and what would it look like?

The answervo think, or at least an answer is to think along the ideas and the premise as t o why this works. The users are being made to feel good about themselves in each example. The noises and sights of a casino are there to be a positive thing: lots of flashing lights and happy sounds draw the users in and with advertisers it is the little nudges on the sub conscious that work. What if we combined both these in our libraries? I don’t mean play sounds of people winning or being happy because our goal isn’t to have people spending money. Our goal is to have people wanting to use our spaces and to want to pick up books and read. So why not play noises, sounds that make our users happy and then use the sub conscious nudging of advertising whilst their ‘guard is down’ to encourage them to read?

One thing that we, and other libraries do is play music through the day. I’ve always been fascinated by the effect this has on young people, especially when you look at the types of music you play. This interests me so much that we actually undertook some research.

We don’t play classical music, as some places do, we instead pick a certain type of easy listening, current music. This is mainly indie based with a hint of folk for softer it’s softer tone. So for instance over the last couple of weeks we have played Ben Howard, Mumford and Sons, Paulo Nutini, Damien Rice, Amy MacDonald, George Ezra, Jason Mraz and Kate Walsh. A good mix of a certain kind of music. We wanted to find out what impact the music was having on students so we decided that at random some days we would play music, some days we wouldn’t and we would monitor a couple of different things.
1. No of students in the library
2. How much work they were doing
3. Their happiness, gauged by simply asking if they were happy today!
4. How they were working i.e. in groups, on their own etc

We did those over the course of a half term, 8 weeks to have a long enough time and also to pick different days so we weren’t always not playing music on the same days. Now, there are of course so many different sets of possibilities, reasons and variables as to why we might have got the results we did. It might have nothing to do with the music, or it might have everything to do with it but we found a couple of interesting things.

1. There was no link to the number of students using the library. We averaged around 80 students at breaktime and 120 at lunch(these totals were taken at the same time each day of how many students were in the library at that time so we may have had many more use the library over the course of these times).

2. We noticed a vast increase in the amount of work being completed when the music was playing. This was frpm our ‘gut’ feeling but also in asking students how much work they had done what there answers were.

3. Students regularly commented that there happier when the music playing. We made no comment to them about the music at all during these times, just asked the same question on each day.

4. There seemed to be no relation to how students worked and the music. We thought that we might see more individual work with the noise from the music stopping groups from talking, however this wasn’t the case.

Other things that we noticed though was that the noise level from students was lower when the music played. We don’t have a silent library policy but the students used the music as a self regulator always staying below that of the music level. Funnily enough on days when we had music playing we noticed the students that had used us during the day came back after school, whereas this happened a lot less on those days when we didn’t play music.

The final and probably most interesting thing we discovered was that on the days we played music more books were being borrowed, both fiction and non fiction. The library felt like it had a much better vibe on these days too that the music was somehow doing something to everyone’s mood.

It was certainly an experiment worth taking and one that justifies why we play music and why we choose the music we do. So maybe this is psychology having a positive effect on reading and our library. Or maybe it’s just a load of rubbish!

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