Is DBL Just A Fad

Just as we were preparing to debut DBL I came across an article that suggests that we were too late arriving on the scene with our emphasis on design. “Beware the Backlash” appeared in Core77, and its main theme is that a backlash against design is on the rise. It seems that real designers are growing tired of the rest of the world using design themes to generate “useless stuff.” The author states that “design has lost its magic now that everyone has an opinion on it. It was clearly much more special when only a select group of designers swooned over the latest Apple product.” Is the world of design experiencing a bandwagon effect? Is it now just faddish to talk about the importance of design? And most importantly, is DBL just being superficial when we talk of the influence design can have on librarianship?

I prefer to think that design has not been “striped of much of its meaning” as the author contends it has. It is possible that design is being overused in the media which adds to the overexposure. So I’m not surprised that those who’ve been long-term design thinkers and practitioners might react by suggesting that those new to the concept are misusing it and are simply jumping on the bandwagon. Given that design principles and design thinking have seen little exploration in the world of librarianship, I think there is much room for the growth of this concept and the related practices in our profession. DBL is about more than just design hype. To my way of thinking, given that many of our libraries need to discover what’s broken and how design can help make things work better, there is much that we can explore and learn in the worlds of design thinking, instructional design, innovation and creativity.

A Focus On Design Thinking

So what am I going to contribute to Designing Better Libraries? You may know me from either one of two blogs. I’ve been maintaining Kept-Up Academic Librarian for 3-4 years now. I also contribute occasional posts to ACRLog. Since I needed something else to do I thought it might be time to get working on another blog. With the other members of the team I worked on developing this new blog, and after a few months – here we are. Some of the inspiration for DBL comes from the work I’ve been doing, with John Shank, at the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community where we’ve been exploring issues related to design (by way of instructional design) and its implications for libraries.

I also became interested in design while at Philadelphia University. It transformed from a legacy textiles college to an institution with multiple design programs, from industrial design to fashion design to instructional design. So I was getting exposure to lots of design activity, and it occurred to me that there was little talk or thinking about design within librarianship – outside of the design of buildings and their interiors – and quite possibly the design of interfaces. But there wasn’t much discussion about the design of a library experience that would be highly satisfying to those who use libraries. It seemed that libraries were the exact type of service organization that could benefit from design thinking.

So I’ll be focusing my blogging on design thinking. I also like to follow a number of innovation blogs and other sources, so I’ll be sharing some thoughts in those areas as well. For those who are new to design thinking I recommend two places to begin learning more. First, take a look at a video lecture delivered at MIT by Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. IDEO is perhaps the leading design firm. The company has designed everything from the original Mac mouse to the Palm PDA. Brown gives some good insight into how design thinkers work. Also take a look at The Art of Innovation. The author, Tom Kelley, is also affiliated with IDEO, and it takes a deeper look into the process that IDEO uses in its design work (largely influenced by a design thinking process).

I expect that the concept of design thinking will be vague to those who are new to it. I will be working to share with DBL readers more ideas and resources to promote a better understanding of design thinking, particulary in the ways librarians can benefit from weaving it into their practice. One thing that design thinkers try to do is develop clear outcomes for their products or deliverables. In order to evaluate the quality of the experience and the achievement of that outcome, it is critical to know at the start what one is seeking to accomplish. If DBL inspires librarians to develop more passion for design thinking – and enables them to firmly grasp the concepts and integrate it into their practice of librarianship – then one of my priority outcomes will be achieved.

Instructional Design & Technology in Libraries

As a DBL blog author, I will be focusing on how instructional design and technology theories and principles can help libraries better design and provide instruction to their patrons. I hope to take you on a journey with me as we look at what instructional design and technology is all about and how we as librarians can integrate it into our instructional processes.

So where do we start our journey. I suggest we start with what it is we hope to accomplish, that is by integrating these techniques and tools into our instructional process – we improve learning. A favorite quote of mine from John Dewey comes to mind.

“Any genuine teaching will result, if successful, in someone’s knowing how to bring about a better condition of things than existed earlier.”

So might it be useful to have a philosophy of teaching to help guide us as we apply instructional design and technology theories and principles? I think it could help all of us to have our own basic philosophy.  The following is an excerpt I wrote for a Penn State University Libraries Instruction Tips and Techniques Blog.

“Because our instruction sessions are constrained by many factors which limit our ability to teach and reinforce information literacy skills and knowledge – what I believe is most important is that we are “guides by the side” of the student purposely creating conditions that allow students to experience first hand the ideas we are trying to teach. If we as librarians at the university were to have a general teaching philosophy I think that it would have to be broad enough to allow for flexibility and creativity while not being too broad so that it would be rendered meaningless. Here is my own teaching philosophy… to enable the learner to actively experience the concepts, knowledge, or skills, that are being presented through the use of appropriate learning theories, instructional strategies, learning tools, and activities which results in the learner attaining a better comprehension of the presented material.”

In my next blog we will look at what basic instructional design is.

DBL’s Feed Experiencing A Glitch

The DBL blog team wishes to thank everyone who has visited the blog, and we appreciate the supportive and positive comments received so far. It sounds like we’ve set some high expectations and we’ll do our best to meet them. And thanks to all you bloggers who posted about DBL to help spread the word to the library community. Just this week over 150 folks have subscribed to our feed on Bloglines.

While we hoped our first week would be a smooth one it appears we are suffering from at least one significant technical glitch. We have discovered that our feed isn’t working in most of the major news aggregators like Bloglines. The subscription will work, but new posts are not being picked up. So for that time being you will not see new items for DBL in your aggregator. We are working to correct this and hope to have it working correctly soon. In the meantime, please try to stop by for our latest posts.


Empathic Problem Solving (The Library as Remedy)

Design Thinking is not about bricks or clicks. It’s not about interior space or web usability, although both of those topics should be addressed. No, Design Thinking is about solving problems. This requires a cultural shift for libraries, since we tend to have a narrow world view. Librarians take pride in critical thinking, narrowing down concepts, whereas Design Thinking is quite the opposite. It’s about generating numerous ideas and building up the possibilities. The most practical solution is not always the best. 10 good ideas are more valuable than 1 great idea.

An approach that I have been exploring over the past year is Empathic Design. I don’t simply ask patrons how we might improve or what they would like to see differently, but instead focus on the problems they encounter not only with the Library, but academically, socially, everything. I want to know where they fail, where things go wrong, as well as what works. I want to understand their total experience. This doesn’t happen through just focus groups or surveys– it comes from being out in the field and gaining trust.

Design Thinking focuses on understanding and defining problems, and then making improvements to address those needs. This requires broad perceptions, which can be a challenge since the concept of libraries is so engrained in our minds and theirs too. People toss the “outside the box” phrase around too much, but it takes great imagination to break-through stereotypes and expectations. Simply asking patrons what they want will only result in them trying to tell us what they think we want to hear. Instead, I want to examine the big picture and then build or reshape services to address actual needs. Let’s target problem areas that we can fix and then promote the value that we are providing: The Library as Remedy.