Foundational Readings: Module 2

Design Thinking and Library 2.0

The foundational readings for modules 1 and 2 left me thinking about a few key themes that I imagine will come up again and again in this course on the hyperlinked library. The readings for these modules included:

The themes and questions that come to mind for me after reading these pieces relate primarily to the intersection of the technological advances of the past decade with the structures of the “analog” library and the role of the user in the design of future library methods and organization. Buchwald states in his manifesto that the “future of library services arouses both excitement and unease.” The ways we deal with our discomfort and accept and welcome change will help us to create the libraries that our users deserve.

I was reminded throughout Mathews’ article Think like a startup and Casey’s Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service of the concepts of design thinking and user-centered design principles. I currently work in public education and in the past five years or so, the concepts and theories of design thinking have begun to permeate the field. In particular, the Stanford Design School has created a range of industry specific tools for organizations to address challenges such as the use of techniques such as ideation, prototyping, reflection, and enacting a model.  The articles for this module don’t explicitly name design thinking as such but they do highlight that design thinking principles have and continue to inform the work of creating the next phase library (library 2.0).

The Matthew’s article struck me as coming from a design thinking modality in that he argues that a successful library is one that adapts to the needs of users, acts rather than waits for perfection, and learns from challenges and enacted solutions. He argues that similar to a start up culture, libraries need to be ready for and embrace “constant change.”  The design thinking theories require that decision makers get out of the mode of tinkering around the edges (like in the vacuum example that he provides)  and instead be ready to accept that the solution may exist outside of constructs that feel familiar and comfortable. He writes that “evolution is happening” and we can either accept and direct it or we can be victims of change and watch as libraries wither around us. Mathewes provides a few concrete examples of libraries who have approached change from a dynamic and positive perspective. The D. H. Hill Library Learning Commons and the NCSU Libraries are examples of such libraries where the organizations didn’t run from change or, to use Mathew’s vacuum analogy, didn’t try to adapt the solution to the known, but instead welcomed the chance to define and create a new solution.

Another aspect of design-thinking that I found in each of the foundational readings is that of user-centered design principles. The core argument in Casey’s Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service is that we can’t address user needs if we don’t know what they are and if we don’t have tools to understand and measure user needs we can’t design libraries for the future. The book outlines a number of such tools including surveys, but the authors are quick to point out that administering a user or patron survey is not the same as being responsive to the genuinely expressed needs and interest of users. Often, the authors argue, we try to fit our existing methods, tools, and library organizational systems to match to user needs rather than being willing to fundamentally shift our structures.  The libraries featured in Library 2.0 seek to address the question: “How can libraries support 21st century learners?”

One example of participatory service-oriented design is the Gwinnett County Public Library’s Rock the Shelves band night. The library system determined that users were interested in using the library as a social space and as vehicle to deepening a sense of community.  The Gwinnett Library case study is a strong example of phase two of most design thinking process which consists of generating ideas from users. The Gwinnett County Public Library, and others who consider themselves to be enacting library 2.0 principles, aim to be the “intellectual soul of the community.”

The article that I struggled with this most in terms of finding immediate relevance to the current challenge in creating 2.0 library was Buckland, M. (1992), Redesigning library services: A manifesto. I found the article to be interesting because, in many aspects, it reads as a timeless foreshadowing to the themes and issues outlined in the Library 2.0 book. While I understand that the manifesto is meant to be a more theoretical approach to change and preservation in libraries, I was distracted by some of the examples given because they felt dated in our current context.  For example, the discussion of electronic records does not take into account “born digital” sources and records which, obviously, did not exist when Buchwald was writing. Buchwald’s manifesto does fit into the design thinking paradigm in that the manifesto restates the importance of user-centered library design, in spite of the somewhat antiquated examples he provides. Buchwald’s manifesto presents a clear “emphasis on service to library users. Libraries are, essentially, utilitarian constructs. That which tends toward the greatest happiness of the greatest number is good; that which does not is bad. Libraries exist to serve and to be used.” Again, in spite of the specific examples from 1992 that aren’t as relevant today, the guiding philosophy of the manifesto feels fresh in the context of a discussion of library 2.0.

Buchwald claims that we are “losing the interest of our users. We no longer consistently offer the services our users want. We are resistant to changing services that we consider traditional or fundamental to library service. We are no longer the first place many of our current and potential customers look for information.”  Buchwald’s warnings about not keeping users at the center of our decision making and the organizational structures of libraries are echoed decades later in Mathewes Think Like a Startup.

After reading the foundational texts for these modules, I am left feeling curious about the ways that forward thinking libraries have approached using design thinking, if at all.  I would like to research and learn more about design-thinking informed library policies and programs.


One thought on “Foundational Readings: Module 2”

  1. This is a very popular topic right now and I think we will see more conferences, articles, and online resources devoted to design thinking. Some of the libraries highlighted in this course have made significant change with the help of design firms – Anythink for example.

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