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

Using Design Thinking At Your Library

When speaking about design thinking at a library conference or in a webcast one question will routinely be raised: “How are librarians actually putting design thinking to use?”. It’s a good question and one that I can answer with a few examples. I often try to encourage participants in the discussion to think of ways they might already be using design thinking or some part of that process without realizing it. I provide examples of how I’m using it in my work. But having even more examples would be better, and in time I think there will be as librarians begin sharing their applications of design thinking in the literature. I recently came across an example of that exact thing.

In the latest issue of the journal Medical Reference Services Quarterly I discovered an article titled “Single Service Point: It’s All in the Design” by Pamela S. Bradigan and Ruey L. Rodman, of the John A. Prior Health Sciences Library at Ohio State University. It appears in the Winter 2008 issue (v. 27) on pages 367-378. It’s not freely online but your library may have a subscription via the Haworth Jounals online collection. Here’s the abstract from the article:

‘‘Design thinking’’ principles from a leading design firm, IDEO, were key elements in the planning process for a one-desk service model, the ASK Desk, at the John A. Prior Health Sciences Library. The library administration and staff employed the methodology to enhance customer experiences, meet technology challenges, and compete in a changing education environment. The most recent renovations demonstrate how the principles were applied. The concept of ‘‘continuous design thinking’’ is important in the library’s dailyoperations to serve customers most effectively.

Where this article can be most helpful to other librarians wanting to know how they could use design thinking is the well laid out discussion of how the five steps of the IDEO design thinking process were applied in the merger of their two service points into one. They elaborate how they put into practice the ideas of understand, observe, visualize, evaluate/refine and implement. All of these phases are fully discussed in the book The Art of Innovation. As a result I think it becomes easier to grasp how this process can help a library to identify problems and then develop appropriate solutions. Bradigan and Rodman used design thinking to first determine in what ways their patrons needed a better, more streamlined service desk. Their solutions were based on understanding and observing their library users.

While it’s likely that this journal doesn’t get read much beyond the medical librarian community, I’m hoping it will reach a broader audience. I am encouraged that it will because the Journal of Academic Librarianship included this article in its “Guide to the Professional Literature” in the January 2009 issue. That’s how I discovered it, and I hope more librarians will as well.

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