The Librarian Design Challenge

EDITED: A million things happened at once this past week, and I’m leaving for DC tomorrow to attend a workshop on open government in libraries. Since I’m not going to have time to compile all the great submissions I’ve already received, I’m giving the rest of you slackers an extension. Let’s run this baby till Friday, May 9th. Same rules apply. Good luck!

Let’s talk about design, folks.

Between the maker movement, the ease of online publishing (in any form, from Twitter on up), and the push to learn code, there’s a clear theme: We are in control. More and more of the moving parts underneath our technology have been exposed. If we have the skills, we can use this level of control to rewire circuits, unclog pipes, and create better experiences for all of our patrons.

I’ve been working to encourage more design thinking at my new library, it has occurred to me that I’m going about this process backwards. We can teach as many skills as we like. But if people can’t start articulating what it is they actually want out of their library services, we’ll never get any of this stuff off the ground. Deep down in its painstakingly carved little heart, design is about knowing what to ask for, and spelling those desires in as specific a manner as possible.

To this end, I’d like to start a semi-regular exercise. Let’s call it The Librarian Design Challenge.

Here’s how it’ll work: For each challenge, I’ll introduce a hypothetical design problem, using something that’s fairly common to most libraries. Anyone who wishes to participate can do so, using any tools they like. This could be as elaborate as creating a working prototype on your own webspace, or as simple as a sketch on the back of a napkin.

Once you’ve finished, you can post it to your own webspace and send an email to toby at theanalogdivide dot com. I’ll compile the submissions, and we’ll spend some time unpacking what makes each one unique. It’ll be a little bit Layer Tennis, and a little bit of the MacGyver Challenge. I’m hoping this exercise will give we librarians a better sense of what truly makes a service useful or frustrating. As we get the hang of this, we can do even more to make all our spaces – virtual or otherwise – even better.

Your first challenge? Create a online library card signup. 

You could say that signing up for a library card is our equivalent of what websites refer to as onboarding – the process with which a user becomes part of that site. Sites invest significant work-hours and enormous sums of money to make this process as appealing as possible?

Libraries? Not so much. Whether through requiring in-person visits, confusing policy, or resorting to PDFs, libraries tend to get in their own way when it comes to attracting new users. We can do better than this. I’d like to use this inaugural Challenge to prove it.

Your criteria:

  • Design a workflow that a hypothetical user would use to sign up for your hypothetical library.
  • You’ll need to use this design to address the issue of proving residency. If there’s a policy that needs to be set in order to make your design work, you’ll need to explain that policy.
  • Any medium is OK. Pencil-and-paper. Google Form. Flowchart. Photoshop mockup. Working prototype.
  • If you draw inspiration from somewhere, cite your sources. I’d love to hear a bit about your process.
  • You must have your design published by Monday, May 5th Friday, May 9th. Remember to email me (toby at theanalogdivide dot com) with the link. If you don’t have your own web space, feel free to send me the design and I’ll publish it here.

Ready, designers? (If you’re reading this, you are a designer.) Get designing.

  • Stephanie

    You would have been great at the Startup Weekend: Library Edition this past weekend in Toronto, Toby!

  • theanalogdivide

    I wish I could have been there!

  • Juliette Swett

    Toby, I love this idea and I’m really curious about where it will go..

  • blendedlibrarian

    This sounds a bit more like a customer journey mapping project than a design thinking exercise. We’ve used it in the past to improve services for our community members by watching them go through the process, experiencing it ourselves from the user perspective and then working to eliminate confusion (or simplify the process) to make it a better experience – one they can figure out without someone having to explain it.

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  • Julia G

    Checking in from Sydney, Australia. Can’t wait to see what other designers come up with!

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