Library Experience

Kevin Hennah has carried out approximately 2,000 onsite consultations at libraries internationally.

Providing inspiration on both design and self-managed makeovers, Kevin’s keynote presentations and workshops have been delivered throughout Asia, Europe, The UAE, The USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. He has a wealth of ideas to share and is passionate about keeping libraries relevant.

"I am more excited by the Making initiatives that can be put in place than the compartmentalised approach to creating the physical space."
-Kevin Hennah


Kevin’s background includes over 25 years experience working with international retail brands such as The Body Shop, Kathmandu, OshKosh and Westfield on store design and visual merchandising.

In 2002 he made the transition to work with libraries on strategies to maximise productivity of space, improve presentation and maintain relevance. Initially, an invitation to present at The State Library of Victoria created demand for a statewide tour. This was followed up with a sold-out national tour.

On the back of this success, he was sponsored to write The Victorian Public Libraries’ Image Handbook (2005). This was followed by an invitation to be the featured author in Re-think, Ideas for Inspiring School Library Design (2007). Following years saw requests to consult and present in The USA, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, The Philippines, Laos, Qatar, Dubai, New Zealand, Romania, Belgium and England.


Kevin’s understanding of the operational requirements of libraries is coupled with practical advice that is sensitive to budget restrictions and challenges traditional thinking.

Over two decades, Kevin’s advice has constantly evolved but his focus on maintaining relevance is unfaltering. Fusing his experience in design, layout, and visual merchandising strategy he is committed creating a level playing ground between physical collection and new technologies and delivering inspired spaces that offer a relevant point of difference.

Kevin is also a co-founder of Merchandising Libraries. A platform he uses to to bring many of his idea to life.

"Innovation doesn’t hinge solely on budget, positive changes are easily within reach."
-Kevin Hennah

Kevin’s thoughts

Many libraries have failed to develop a visual merchandising strategy to help print compete with new technologies and usage stats have suffered as a result. It’s easy to attribute the downturn in loans to new technologies, but I’d suggest that  the visual merchandising strategy in many libraries plays an equal role.

If a book retailer were to adopt the ideas applied in many libraries they’d go broke!

Technology is constantly evolving and for the most part this is driven by external influences;  constant software updates,  maintaining current hardware. But who drives innovation in the  display and marketing of physical resources?  This must happen at ground level, within each library. Defaulting to traditional ideas has long lost relevance.

In the design and renovation process, much effort is invested in architecture and interior design. Of course this is  important, however it is easy to unknowingly  create a contemporary veneer around traditional and outdated ideas. A impressive library is not just architecture and decor – that’s an impressive building. An impressive library should be measured by what you achieve with collection and the unique people spaces you create.

In education, I have met with countless people who question whether Non Fiction (in print) has lost relevance. These schools have keep abreast of developments in technology over the past 20 years. However, during this time, the faded, poorly weeded Non Fiction collection has remained on tall, dated shelving arranged in narrow isles to the rear of the room.

Rarely is a book displayed face-out and little or no innovative signage solutions have been developed to help print compete with online resources. There’s really no more they could have done to make the collection look less appealing!

It’s probably timely to emphasise that I am a keen supporter of online resources and new technologies, as well as proactive weeding of the print collection. However,  we cannot make an informed judgment on the potential of books until we create a level playing ground between print and new technologies.

I am concerned about some Public Libraries that rely heavily on the Internet to maintain customer numbers. Free access is no longer a point of difference in many communities, so the strategy is loosing relevance.

Whilst many Public Libraries enjoy strong  usage stats from DVD, they too will inevitably loose appeal due to improved and cheaper streaming. Now is the time to nurture other other parts of the product offering to fill the void that will inevitably be created.

A contemporary library should be set up as the community’s shared living room – cleverly selected furniture is at  the foundation of this advice.

Use seating as a marketing tool by creating innovative spaces for meetings, independent and collaborative work and leisure. In education,  using seating to create  a point of difference over classrooms is fundamental to maintaining relevance.

When building or renovating Public Libraries, consider opportunities to benefit from traffic generated by council services that share the building. Become a destination. If deemed viable, incorporate a café, art space, garden area or small business incubator into new branches.

Attracting a younger audience into Public Libraries is too complex to address in a paragraph. I must however stress that image drives perception and the solution is much bigger picture than simply creating a teen zone – a concept I find quite dated. The marketing strategy, resources and overall image need to be relevant.

In education, I have observed many libraries renamed Learning Commons or alike as a strategy to remain relevant. This often comes without significant cultural change. In most instances, I see this name change as an example of not ‘walking the talk’.

I’m a change advocate, though I don’t see any value in throwing away the Library brand. The concept of a library is not dated –  phenomenally successful, Netflix is a library!

Investing in RFID and self-check technology and maintaining a traditional style circulation desk alongside new technology is almost like saying “don’t bother” to the customer.

I believe there should be a level of uniformity across a library network. Particularly a Public Library Service. l support tailoring the design, décor and collection to branch-based demographic.

Take a uniform approach to all signage and print collateral. It not only looks professional, but also helps build presence in the community and reinforces a group of libraries work together. This is a fundamental principal of marketing and promotion.

I understand there is more to a library than loan stats, however it is important not to discount the relevance of these as a benchmark. To this end, I ask all libraries, “what would you change about your library if you were to receive a dollar in your personal bank account for every item borrowed”?

Frequently, I note the implementation of Maker Spaces in libraries is less impressive than the colourful words that surround it’s description.

I am more excited by the Making initiatives that can be put in place than the compartmentalised approach to creating the physical space.

Never allow a lack of funding to hold you back as you do not need to spend a lot to make a difference!