Using UX To Move Beyond “The Library”

It seems about that time for my bi-annual post here at DBL: the original hotspot for UX and Design-Thinking in the library blogosphere. There has been a lot of recent hype in this area so I thought I’d add to the conversation.

One of my favorite projects at UCSB is serving on a new Biology Building Committee. This venture is located in the Library’s backyard and so I’m on the team to represent our interests, which include a shared loading dock. Recently, I had the opportunity to step outside that role and offer some insight about workspace.

The building is predominately labs and offices, as opposed to classrooms or teaching spaces. It will be very interdisciplinary featuring scientists, biologists, and engineers. And it will house faculty (Principle Investigators), researchers, graduate students, undergrads, as well as administrative & support staff.

One of the interesting themes that is emerging is the idea of workspace. We’re still in the conceptualization stage but I have tried to pull from my UX days at Georgia Tech during this discussion. Originally we had envisioned a suite of offices. (See image #1 below.) The faculty get a window view, the grad students and researchers share a room, and likewise, the undergrads are bunched together. I didn’t really think to question this arrangement because it seemed like traditional hierarchy that one would expect to find in an academic building: row after row of offices.

Then the architects shook us up. They presented a “what-if” scenario by dropping some walls and crafting a more open design. (See image #2 below.) And even the more ambitious one, image #3.

This really clicked with me. It allowed me to stop thinking of people working in an office, but rather, to imagine a space that fits users’ needs. I urged the committee not to think in terms of Student #1 using Workspace #1 (and Student #2 using Space #2) but instead to think of creating various zones.

Since most of their work is going to be done via laptops, people won’t need to be chained down to a desk; instead they will have the freedom to work in the particular area that best suits their need for that day. Some days they may need to crunch data or write a report and hence will require a quiet space. Other days they might want to be in the open while they run a software program, review notes, or draft models. And some days they might need to brainstorm, mentor, or share resources. Instead of trying to do all of these functions in one room, it makes sense to design designated areas based on the functions of the work that needs to be done. (quiet space, writing space, talking space, etc)

I volunteered to work with the lead on this project on observing and interviewing students and faculty who might inhabit this building. It will be interesting to see how they currently operate and how we might be able to design a space that could improve their productivity.

The point that I am trying to make here isn’t about a biology building—the bigger theme is deploying librarians armed with expertise out into their communities. A lot of times, particularly in academics, we limit ourselves to an instructional or research role, but skill sets like UX can open new doors.

If you develop experience (and a reputation) with assessment, ethnography, Design-Thinking, marketing, programming, facilitating, project management, events planning, or something else to that effect—somebody somewhere can use your help. I view this as the ultimate form of outreach. It pushes us outside of the library and beyond the classroom, and places us on committees, taskforces, and working groups around the campus. That’s how we can make a real difference and not only help to make meaningful contributions, but also expand people’s perceptions on the value and capabilities that their libraries (and librarians) have to offer.

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Author: Brian Mathews

Brian Mathews is a public services librarian at Georgia Tech. Check out: www.brianmathews.com

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