Library Community Member’s Quality of Life Bill of Rights

There are times when I wish our library building and equipment could provide a better user experience simply by virtue of consistently and successfully delivering on the most basic set of user expectations. The building is past its prime, gets heavy use and as much as we’d want it to always meet those expectations we occasionally fall short – and we do our best to remedy what we don’t get right. What are those basic user expectations? I refer to it as the library “quality of life.” That’s the term the director at a previous place of work used, and I always thought it aptly described that most basic services that we needed to consistently deliver with high quality – and certainly free of breakage.

When we focus our attention on the interaction between staff and community member, which is certainly critical to the experience, the more simple quality of life factors can get overlooked. We should not underestimate how important the library quality of life is to the total user experience. A dirty bathroom, a broken piece of equipment, bad odors, uncomfortable temperatures,noisy study space and other problems detract from the great user experience we want our community members to have. Those are also the exact sort of things that often get communicated in a social message, and we know how damaging that can be to our brand.They are also the sort of things that lead to complaints, and yet they we should have the most control over them. How do we make it better?

Perhaps we just need to keep reminding ourselves how important the library quality of life is to user experience, and that we should make a point of checking everyday to make sure we are doing our best, no matter how uncooperative our buildings (or the community members themselves) are, to deliver a consistently high quality experience. I thought for sure that someone in libraryland had already devised some sort of manifesto or bill of rights about this, but my searches came up empty. The only references to “quality of life” in connection with “library” pointed to the importance of the library to the community’s quality of life. Just like a community without a library fails on quality of life, a library with broken basics fails on its quality of life. Here’s my attempt at a “Library Quality of Life Bill of Rights” that should serve as the commitment we make to our community members to guarantee them the best possible library experience. If you already created one of these for your library or you have other tenets to add, please use the comments to share.

1. Our community members are entitled to a clean library. Where they walk, where they sit and where they work should be regularly cleaned, and re-cleaned as necessary to meet expected standards of cleanliness for a shared community space.

2. Our community members are entitled to decent, usable lavatories. This is important and deserves to stand separately from overall library cleanliness. Keep it simple. If you go in there and there’s a problem (odor, dirt, leaking faucet, whatever) – just get it fixed – and fast. Don’t wait for a community member to complain.

3. Our community members are entitled to a library that offers a comfortable working environment. To the extent possible eliminate disturbances or issues that create discomfort or disruption. Recognizing that one size does not fit all requires us to offer multiple environments within the library to meet different work and learning needs.

4. Our community members are entitled to working spaces that are quiet. Consider developing quiet rooms, distraction-free zones and other spaces designed to minimize noise. Create a building culture that empowers community members to safely self-police quiet spaces, and that discourages those who create disruption.

5. Our community members are entitled to equipment that is in correct operating order. Whether it’s a photocopier, a scanner, computers, printers or a vending machine, a library experience should be free of the frustration experienced when broken equipment means projects that go unfinished, wasted money or the outcome for a library visit goes unmet.

6. Our community members are entitled to comfortable, safe furniture. Seating, carrels, tables and whatever else counts as furniture should be kept in the best possible condition and regularly checked to ensure that age and use has not caused a serious condition of deterioration.

7. Our community members are entitled to a safe and secure library facility. The administration and staff, working collaboratively with those responsible for security, should establish a culture that is sensitive to saftey issues. It should put into place those resources that help to prevent crime from happening, and to allow it to be effectively dealt with and resolved in the event it does happen.

8. Our community members are entitled to adequate working outlets and network access for connectivity for their devices. Community members depend on their technology devices to conduct their daily business, and if their library fails to provide these 21st century work-life basics we have no reason to blame them for going elsewhere.

9. Our community members are entitled, within reason, to the basic office supplies that facilitate their ability to satisfy whatever tasks they came to complete at the library. There are any number of options for providing access to staplers, scissors, tape and other simple necessities of office work that help community members do their work and eliminate their stress. Let’s eliminate barriers to providing these resources.

10. Our community members are entitled to a library that is easy to navigate. Let’s make sure our building has pathways and signage that are conducive to effective and intuitive way-finding to get community members to their destination and back again, and whenever possible eliminates barriers that create confusion, wasted time and stress.

Perhaps you find these rights just too obvious. Perhaps you assume that they should just be and not require us to give them our attention. Or we might assume that someone else is going to take the responsibility to make sure that this all works correctly and to the community member’s satisfaction. I know I didn’t get into this profession to make sure bathrooms are clean, and you probably didn’t either. But it’s their library and it’s our responsibility. If we want to delivery a better library experience we need to pay attention and build processes to ensure we deliver the library quality of life that we want for ourselves when we go to any library other than our own. Perhaps having a Library Quality of Life Bill of Rights could make a difference in designing and sustaining that better library experience.

Design Thinking For Our College Students – A Better Higher Education Experience?

One way in which design thinking is promoted by its advocates is as a system for solving difficult or wicked problems. Much of Roger Martin’s classic work on design thinking, The Design of Business, lays out an approach by which businesses can overcome the weaknesses of purely analytic or algorithmic processes for problem solving. In higher education we frequently describe critical thinking as an important outcome for college students, and advocates of information literacy discuss the necessity of helping students think critically about the retrieval and usage of information – and how it contributes to the scholarly communication system. One way in which students can develop higher level critical thinking ability is in solving difficult problems. So it would seem to make sense that helping them to better understand and use design thinking would be a valuable component of higher education. There is little or no evidence that design thinking is currently integrated in to the learning process anywhere within the typical undergraduate college curriculum [NOTE – some design and business programs would be exceptions but this is often more the case at the graduate level].

So I was intrigued to come across an article about design thinking in the fall issue of Review of Education Research. I could recall few if any articles about design thinking in the literature of education, and I immediately wondered what ideas and suggestions the authors, Rim Razzouk and Valerie Shute would be sharing in their article “What is Design Thinking and Why Is It Important?” [NOTE: available only to subscribers]. The basic premise of the article is that current pedagogical approaches are inadequate to prepare students for lifelong learning. No matter what career direction a student is headed, he or she must be an effective problem solver. After pointing out the growing interest in design thinking in the world of the business the authors state that:

Helping students to think like designers may better prepare them to deal with
difficult situations and to solve complex problems in school, in their careers, and
in life in general. Current educational practices, though, typically adhere to outdated theories of learning and pedagogy

The first half of the article provides an in depth literature review of design thinking, so for that reason alone it may be of interest to those seeking a nice survey of the basic concepts and theories. In identifying the characteristics of design thinkers, Razzouk and Shute do a good job of demonstrating that those are qualities we want in our college graduates:
* ability to visualize
* human centered
* ability to develop multiple solutions to a single problem
* systemic vision
* ability to clearly articulate ideas to others
* effective in teams

While the authors do a good job of thinking through how design thinking could benefit college students, the article is thin on providing concrete examples of how and where that would happen in the curriculum. They mostly offer general suggestions:

Associated activities could be designed in a way that requires students
to generate ideas/solutions, receive support for their emergent design thinking
skills… Educators can support their students in developing these skills by providing them with multiple and varied opportunities to design and create prototypes, experiment with different ideas, collaborate with others, reflect on their learning,and repeat the cycle while revising and improving each time. In summary, the premise is that by improving students’ design thinking skills through having them apply processes and methods that designers use to ideate and help them experience how designers approach problems to try to solve them, students will be more ready to face problems, think outside of the box, and come up with innovative solutions.

While I agree with the authors that integrating design thinking skills into the curriculum would definitely benefit the students, I imagine that influencing other faculty to embrace their idea would be difficult. Given that few faculty would even be familiar with design thinking, it would be quite a challenge to get them to accept an entirely new approach to learning that would require them to abandon many of their current practices. I have advocated in the past that Library and Information Science educators should look more closely into design thinking for ways to integrate the ideas and practices into the preparation of future librarians. For the most part it has fallen on deaf ears, and I expect that these authors can expect the same results.

Despite the odds against having the higher education establishment accept design thinking as a viable foundation for a 21st century education, I hope the authors will make an ongoing effort to get other faculty to hear their ideas. As the authors put it, “Helping students to think like designers may better prepare them to deal with difficult situations and to solve complex problems in school, in their careers, and in life in general…If we are serious about preparing students to succeed in the world, we should not require that they memorize facts and repeat them on demand; rather, we should provide them with opportunities to interact with content, think critically about it, and use it to create new information.” I think that’s an educational philosophy that many academic librarians would support. I will be following up to see if the authors are able to gain any traction with their bold proposal for educating college students as design thinkers.