Most of us probably have something in our library space that we want to change. Or many things that we want to change. It can be daunting trying to figure out where to start and what you want your space to become. That’s why I always recommend gathering inspiration for your space. Visiting other spaces, reading architecture and design books and looking at other spaces online are all great ways to start dreaming about what your space could become. There’s another fantastic option that you may not have thought of: visiting vendor showrooms.
Vendor showrooms are spaces where a furniture vendor displays different items that they carry in suggested configurations. Depending on what vendor you’re looking at, they might be set up as classrooms, common spaces, libraries, offices or some other type of space. The locations of these types of showrooms vary – they tend to be in major cities. Check with your vendor representatives to find out which ones are closest to you (or closest to places you’re traveling).
But I have no money!
Now, I know what big complaint is currently the elephant in the room – “But we have no money for nice new furniture! How can I go look at vendor showrooms when we can’t afford it?”. First of all, be honest about your current situation when you set up the visit. Let them know that you’re looking for inspiration. That you don’t have a budget or time frame yet. You don’t want to “trick” the vendor into thinking you’re ready to buy when you aren’t. Just because you don’t have money (yet) doesn’t mean you can’t start planning. You can get inspired, get ideas, and translate those into a vision for your space. That vision can help you pitch to administration, who then might be able to pitch for funds from your district. That vision will help you to write a grant that will help you to actually buy some of the furniture you are looking at.
3 Ways Visiting Vendor Showrooms Can Inspire Your Space
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Build a relationship with vendors
Visiting a showroom also helps you to build a relationship with your vendors. Spend some time during the visit sharing about your dreams and ideas. Talk about what you hope to accomplish in your space, the experiences you want your students to have. Your vendor might know the perfect piece of furniture for you. Or they might be able to loan some items to you to try out. They might be aware of a great funding opportunity that would be perfect for your goals. It pays to build these relationships early.
And while we’re on the topic of relationships, I should address the other issue that always comes up “What if I decide to not buy any furniture from them and go with another vendor? Isn’t that wasting their time?” Well, as long as you’re honest throughout the process, it’s not. Vendors are in sales. They understand that not every person that walks through their doors is going to be a customer. Obviously, they’re hoping you’ll buy some of their furniture. But having some people who don’t turn into customers is a part of the process. You gave them an opportunity to turn you into a customer, so no, it’s not wasting their time.
Experience furniture laid out the way it’s intended
I love looking through vendor catalogs and seeing the examples of different spaces they’ve created with their furniture. But it’s one thing to see it in a glossy catalog – it’s another thing entirely to sit in that chair and set a book down on that table and experience the layout yourself. Things look and feel different in real life. It’s a valuable experience to be able to know what those items you saw in the catalog look and feel like.
Take ideas from other types of spaces and rework them
Many furniture vendors create furniture for more than just library spaces. They likely also do classrooms or commons or offices or other types of spaces. Seeing these layouts in vendor showrooms is a great way to gather ideas from other types of spaces and see how you can rework them in your own space. Sure, you’re probably not putting cubicles in your library. But maybe you could get those dividers in a different configuration and use them to create a quiet study space in your library? Or maybe those dividing walls intended for meeting rooms could work great in a small group study space? Be open to ideas from all different types of spaces.
Have you ever visited a vendor showroom before? What did you learn from the experience?
Special thanks to Stephanie from The Binford Group of Indiana for letting me come visit KI’s showroom while I was in Indianapolis.
If you liked this post, you might like my book 🙂
Want to learn more about how I transformed my library space, read about other schools’ transformations and get practical tips for changing up your own space?
Check out my book: Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget
In this practical guide, I go into detail about planning a library space transformation, from brainstorming to ideation to surveying your students. I include tips for dreaming big as well as simple, budget-friendly changes you can implement right away. Each chapter includes action steps and connections to the ISTE standards.