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Designing Better Libraries by steven j bell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

I Wondered When I’d See This

Since its inception in February 2007, Designing Better Libraries has pretty much been a lone voice in the library blogosphere – or the profession itself - when it comes to discussing design thinking – and pretty much anything about design in any sense other than what it has traditionally been for librarians – designing buildings and interiors. As DBL readers know, our treatment of design explores it as a creative mental process that can be used to create better libraries and better user experiences for those who use libraries.

But I didn’t think that it would remain this way for long. There are more than a few ways to discover design, and I knew eventually I’d see someone else writing about it as well. That can be a good thing. Discussions of design is not the sole privilege of DBL, and it can certainly be helpful to have others sharing these ideas. So I was interested to come across an essay in Library Journal’s NetGen column that said “If we are going to look beyond librarianship for a professional model, we owe it to ourselves to study a discipline more akin to ours: design.” I think that’s just one theme we’ve been promoting here at DBL. In his essay “All Work and No Play” Terrence Fitzgerald advocates that what librarians can learn from designers is the value of play. He says that “Designers are taught to approach every problem with a sense of play.” I suppose there is some truth to that. If you’ve ever seen the Nightline segment called “The Deep Dive” you can see that there is a playful spirit at IDEO. There, toys litter the workspace.

While I agree that librarians do design things, such as instructional products, I would argue that there’s more to emulating the design profession than simply being playful. When I watch “The Deep Dive” I see some designers who are quite serious and even a bit competitive. I’m not suggesting that Fitzgerald’s take on the design profession is shallow. It may be that in the short essay he needed to dwell on just one element of the design approach, and thought that encouraging librarians to be more playful would be the best message to share about design work that would make for a sticky message. I certainly agree that we can potentially accomplish more through creativity and play, than simply following the “business as usual” methods that have been in use for…well, too long.

Comments

Comment from Heather
Posted: December 17, 2007 at 7:31 pm

Designers are guilty of this too, I think. :~) For instance, designers have come with with “quick-Ethnography” methods. I wonder if thi isn’t this an oxymoron. Not that these contributions aren’t important. The development of new methods is what helps us to move forward as a profession, right? How do we develop new methods or tailor those of other disciplines while maintaining validity?

What I think is really key to design thinking is lateral thinking – or the ability to work through a problem in a non-linear way. Do we do that in libraries much? Not really. I also appreciate how firms like IDEO are able to embed themselves in the world of potential users. Do we do that? Not much. One – I think as librarians we oftentimes think we are being empathetic, when in fact we are being assumptive, and two – I think we could spend more time than we do on “potential” users. We could use a lot more training in these methods – and in the analysis of the data we produce doing this research. That last part is the hardest part I think.

Ironically, the first time I watched the Deep Dive was at the 2002 Immersion (ACRL Institute for Information Literacy). I don’t think I was the only librarian in the room wishing I could work for IDEO! Intrigued by that experience, and influenced by the fact that I’m a librarian for Industrial Design programs, I started to learn more about design methods. For the past two years I’ve been co-teaching a course in Design Research (for ID students) and have tried to imagine how librarians might apply these same methods and ways of thinking to our own work. I just picked up your book and am looking forward to read it and your blog.

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