By Coco Zephir, Head Librarian
The Future of Libraries and the St. Mark’s Library
Libraries are ever changing in both form and function. One aspect currently at the center of library innovation is user-experience (UX). UX focuses on meeting the needs of patrons to improve their experiences by making them more impactful and meaningful. UX is a reiterative process that involves constant conversation with your community. Libraries using UX are implementing human-centered design, or design thinking, to better understand their patron base. Human-centered design, “focuses on defining and then resolving concerns by paying attention to the needs, aspirations, and wishes of people” (Peet 2016).
Using human-centered design thinking, libraries are reinventing their programming by holistically reassessing services through a service design model. Service design is a way for libraries to use data collected through UX assessments to better their overall service model (Marquez and Downey 2015). Perhaps surprisingly, libraries shifting into full-on user-centered design is new territory. Meeting the direct needs of the user base means libraries need to shift their perception of who or what drives the action. Librarians, in this paradigm, serve to collect data from the voices of their user base to better serve their community as a whole.
As libraries seek to improve and expand their service models and offerings based on the needs of users, we, at St. Mark’s, must do the same. But, how do we do this? Where do we begin? First, we need to identify and fix what’s broken (Bell 2016). From there, we need to run a needs assessment to find what, in fact, our St. Mark’s population needs. Why a needs assessment? Because, as Aaron Schmidt UX guru reminds us, “we can only make so much progress in a vacuum” (Schmidt 2015). As it turns out, asking St. Markers what they need from the library has been one of our first steps this year in the library’s remodel and restructure.
We began this fall by asking new students at orientation a few questions, one of which was: “What is the one thing you wish the library had?” This question was also posted in the main entrance area of the library at the opening of school. Here are some of the responses we received:
More comfortable spaces
Comfy chairs to cuddle up with a good book
First floor bathroom
A better rug
Water filler thingy
The results indicate that students are looking for a more comfortable space that offers snacks and a more robust collection of services and offerings. While these responses are from a small population of the student body, the information provides us with a glimpse into their needs.
Using this information, the library was able to make a few instant changes, including allowing food and drink and installing colorful signage, which indicates a social lounge area as well as a quiet floor. In addition, we procured a 65 inch monitor for student and faculty use on projects and presentations, and soon there will be a water bottle filler installed outside the library’s main entrance. But, perhaps most importantly, we are embarking on a furniture redesign based on the overwhelming feedback that students need a comfortable place to do their work.
After our initial assessment, we are embarking on a deeper investigation into how the St. Mark’s community uses the library and how that relationship can be improved upon. We are in the process of creating a Library Advisory Board that will be comprised of students who seek to guide the future progress of the library. We have also just acquired an online platform for our curricular content called Libguides, so that we can better and more efficiently meet the research needs of our students and faculty. At the library, many, many things are in the works to better serve our St. Mark’s community.
Coco Zephir joined the St. Mark’s library community this past summer. She holds a BA in English and Environmental Studies from the University of Vermont (UVM), an MA in English Literature from UVM, and an MS in Library Science from The University of Kentucky. Coco coaches thirds girls soccer and lives in Gaccon with her husband Billy and dog Henry. In her free time you will find her hiking or reading young adult novels.
Hats off to you Coco and to the St. Mark’s Library… this is a smart, integrated and supportive vision … and it will so well serve the School’s students.