(All the pictures were taken by myself unless stated otherwise.)
Last week I started my first module of the MA course. Publishing Context is a week-long module aiming at broadening our knowledge of publishing. It was an amazing, yet extremely intense week. By the end of the week, we were all exhausted. Thankfully, a trip to Wellcome Collection drove all my tiredness away. I not only had a really good time there, but also couldn’t stop thinking about it after I got home.
Wellcome Collection is basically composed of three main areas─ the library, the bookshop and the incredible reading room.
Our first stop (me as part of House Hart) was the library. We didn’t actually visit the library itself since we were not members yet, and we didn’t want to disturb anyone. Instead, we were led to the viewing room where displayed some of the most precious works in the library. I was really surprised by how these books were presented. Though carefully placed on soft pillows and wooden wedge to protect the spines, they were not kept in showcases like most museums/libraries do. We were even allowed to touch them and flip through the pages! Being able to closely examine these books was truely amazing.
After immersing ourselves in history, we went to the brand new reading room. It was a well-furnished room with several themed bookshelves, exhibits and comfy chairs. The moment I stepped into the room, I was stunned by the wide staircase, on which large cushions were lain for people to sit on and enjoy their books. It was totally my dream comes true. Another thing I found interesting about this place was its interactivity. We were able, or even encouraged to interact with both the books and the environment. The area that impressed me the most was the ‘face’ section. In this particular section, a dressing table was placed, pencils and paper were also provided. On the side of the dressing table, there was a pillar completely covered by visitors’ self portraits. I absolutely love this idea because it allowed me to picture how other people were using this area.
Finally, we visited the bookshop on the ground floor. At first sight, I didn’t find anything special about this place. It was open and bright like most of the other stores were. The way books and other non-book products displayed were quite normal as well. However, once I took a closer look at the store, its uniqueness could easily be noticed. First of all, though well-known and bestselling books were included, most of the titles were rare to be seen in other bookshops. Also, the way books arranged was quite different. Normally, we see ‘fiction’, ‘health’, etc in bookstores. But here, we see something like ‘for learning, for life’ and ‘body’. The way they organized their books truly grabbed my attention and made me curious about what’s on the shelves.
And of course, as publishing MA students, we weren’t there only for fun. We were given a task to observe how the environments may influence the way books are used or purchased.
At first, this place reminded me so much of Eslite Bookstore (click to visit their homepage), which is the largest bookstore chain in Taiwan. They are both beautifully-decorated shops with calm and relaxing atmosphere. But the longer I stayed in Wellcome Collection, the more differences between the two I noticed.
Some major differences are as below:
First off, they interpret books differently. In Wellcome Collection, all kinds of props are provided to encourage visitors to interact with the objects, books and other people. In here, books are not home-decor, but something we can actually touch and use. However, when I wander around Eslite, they always make me feel like these books are more like decorations, something that will make you and your house ‘look good’.
Secondly, the way Wellcome Collection arrange the books gives people surprises whilst in Eslite, we feel organized. Wellcome Collection’s untraditional book organization is definitely one of its many selling points. Putting books under more general, indirect categories allows readers to discover ‘something new’ every time we browse through the titles. It is full of surprises and make us see books and the stories from a different perspective. On the other hand, Eslite is a fairly large bookstore, they have a larger amount of titles and stock than Wellcome Collection do. They categorize their books logistically. For example, in terms of traditional Chinese books(they also sell books in English, Japanese and simplified Chinese) , there are 11 different categories, including fiction, YA, arts, humanity, language, business, etc. And there are more sub-categories under each. They even have ipad installed on each floor to help locate the books. One can always find the book they want in Eslite.
After talking about the interpretation of books and the way they are organized, I would like to draw the attention to non-book objects, especially the reading/sitting area. In Wellcome Collection, there are chairs and cushions everywhere. One can easily find a place to sit and enjoy their books. When I was there, almost all the seats were occupied. Everyone seemed to be happily reading their books (in their most relaxed and comfortable position). In Eslite, by contrast, not many seats are provided. Whenever one wants to sit and read a book, they can only sit on the aisles. And the aisles are not as wide as Wellcome Collection’s. Which means that one can easily block other customers’ way. It is annoying for both sides. One cannot focus on their books, and the other has trouble finding a book.
In short, Wellcome Collection is an interactive place where people may find something surprised because of the unusual book organization. It is also somewhere readers can take their time and spend a whole day here reading. As in Eslite Bookstore, customers will have no trouble finding the book they want, and can appreciate the beauty of books.
So how exactly does the environment influence the way people use or purchase the books?
Based on my observation, I think that in a place like Wellcome Collection, people tend to spend more time there, either reading or exploring all the different possibilities of the place/books. And the longer they stay in a place, the more possible they will find something that grabs their interests and wants to purchase. However, for those who want to look for a specific book, it is better for them to visit Eslite since they will find it easier to find books there.
Finally, in the end of this already-too-long blog post, I want to say that maybe we need both kinds of stores in our lives. One to encounter new things we may never notice before and to generate new ideas of how to interact with books; the other to find specific books when we’re desperately in need of them. The prior one is still quite rare nowadays, but I would really love to see more Wellcome Collection-like bookstores in the future.