A recent article about JC Penny’s transformation into a series of boutiques is noteworthy to library consultants, librarians and architects. The former Apple retail chief Ron Johnson is trying to transform the physical space plan at JC Penny. He is changing the JC Penny retail environment into a series of focal points – boutique spaces that attract more involvement with the brands and the customers. This creates new opportunities for interactions with the product(s).
JC Penny’s intends to RFID all the items in the store, creating opportunities for mobile retail environments. The idea is to create different boutiques that can be transformed annually in an efficient way, leveraging RFID’s advantage as an accurate way to keep track of your products.
The use of RFID as a way to keep the product in a system that is mobile in nature is intriguing. RFID allows management to move or change the location of the product to any part of the store at anytime during the year. For example, Christmas requires a change to the environment to reflect the holiday spirit. Johnson’s strategy is to enable the store manager to redesign the space efficiently without doing an inventory each time it occurs.
PC Penny’s plans remind us that the RFID chip can be used to create a flexible “library as place”, keeping inventory control in an orderly manner and adapting to the needs of the community on an quarterly or annual basis. The strategy enables the library to be changed without a large redesign investment i.e. knowing where each book is placed gives the library staff an opportunity to move the collection around without being concerned about inventory control.
A flexible library environment is more vital today than ever before, because spaces for quiet study, collaboration and computer access are increasingly filled with patrons in need of workspace. Indeed, patrons are using the library’s environment more and more to excel in research. They are using the library for group meetings and any number of activities. However, the library buildings are limited by inflexible designs of the past – static books, lots of walls, poor inventory control and fixed furniture.
To truly create the learning environment that is needed today, librarians and educators need to think of ways to create flexible spaces on a quarterly or annual basis. For example the seating areas for quiet study don’t need to change often, but the group spaces and program areas need to be flexible for different sizes of groups. They need to be flexible for different modes of learning on a continual basis. Libraries that don’t have these types of building programs become static and inefficient.
The library needs strategies to support the “endless demand for quiet spaces” and the “endless demand for group activities.” The boutique zones strategy by Ron Johnson at JC Penny, creates new opportunities to manage the stock (inventory) in an efficient way, creating a retail environment that will be in constant motion. This long term strategy looks promising for libraries that start to harness a flexible building program and design. If they already have RFID, they can use this technology to develop flexible zones in their building; programs that leverage mobile technology to keep the library space in constant motion.