Notes on a Plane: Reflections on Next Library International Conference

By Amber Mathewson

Okay, so I didn’t really write this on the plane coming back to Arizona from Chicago, but I did have some time to think about how to bring all of the information and inspiration packed into two days back home and to keep the energy going.

One main thing that kept coming back to me was, LEGOS.  Yes, I am talking about the brightly colored bricks you may have played with as a child, or you may have cursed them in the night after having stepped on one if your children loved them as much as mine did.
Next Library 2014The keynote speaker, Bo Stjerne Thomsen of the Lego Foundation (who followed Bryan Bannon – Chicago Public Library, Susan Benton – Urban Library Council and Rahm Emanuel – Mayor of Chicago!) gave us each some Legos and asked us to build a duck.  He shared with us that to date; they have discovered that with just 6 Duplo bricks 915,103,765 ~ nearly 1 billion different designs can be created!  I could not get that number out of my head.  We are always saying think outside the box for library planning, services and programming.  We have more to offer than six components so the number of designs/configurations of library services is too big to even put into a box – we don’t need to get outside of it, we just need to start playing in it.

Thomsen said, “How you think about libraries as a child is how you will think about them later.”  John Palfrey of the Knight Foundation reiterated this by saying, “We must create a new nostalgia regarding libraries.”  Today kids and materials are born digital and might never make it to print.  Kids presume access and assume digital formats.  If you don’t have a physical collection what does that mean?  We still need physical and digital but we have research to do to understand the balance.

You create learning by continually transforming, connecting, and exploring and we learn better when we share with others – not compete with them.  We were reminded that the brain architecture is in place before school age.  The difference between a 4-6 year old brain and an adult brain is strong pathways, but the pathways are there by age 4-6.  Studies have shown that infants who were more curious at age 5 months attained a higher education level at age 14. Great news! Libraries are good at fostering curiosity!

Cultures which value creativity encourage it.  Libraries are an exchange of knowledge not a collection of books.  We are moving from a transactional to relational culture.  We must provide space for learning; space for inspiration; space for meeting and space for performance.  The way to begin making the change is through human-centered design.

Several sessions at NEXT worked on the human-centered design concept; in one session we discussed library service within the five Ps:  Programs, Partnerships, Process, People & Platform.  This session referenced the Truth about Customer Experience by Harvard Business Review in talking about “touchpoints” of service; the points along a customer’s path of service and interaction with a business/organization.  In bringing the customer and the emotional experience together what people remember the most are the most extreme service experience and the last experience.

A “Service Safari” is an activity of sending staff out to business/organizations and “mapping” their experience as they go. This is a great way to find out best practices before evaluating your library’s own service map.  It is essential to engage library staff in creating a vision for “the library experience.”  Begin to recognize front line staff as “Agents of Service.”

The theme of library experience was carried on in sessions dealing with library design. In the past, architects began with the number of books and the amount of seating a library wanted.  The designs were good and almost every library was built the same – designing for scarcity.  In designing libraries of the future there is a need to design for creativity, innovation, adaptability, accomplishment and community engagement.  How do you create spaces where customers can be creators and sharers? Working with components not rooms, start with people, spaces, partnerships; materials and activities will then support outcomes.  Determining guiding principles for the library experience will influence every decision.  Remember the social nature of libraries today.  Don’t forget HOMAGO (hanging out, messing around and geeking out) works for kids and adults as well as it has for teens in the YOU Media spaces.  Individuals want to be alone together.

Next Library 2014I think another major theme that has stuck with me is the idea of fun.  It is important for library staff to have fun when looking at new designs in service and space.  Staff needs the freedom to think about creating a library experience, and then to work together in determining which of the 1 billion ideas they have will be the best for the community.  Think about the productivity of companies like LEGOS, Apple and Google to name a few.

If you designed your library today from scratch would it look anything like your current model?  Break out the glue sticks, LEGOS, anything you can think of and let your staff do an exercise in creating a new space or recreating an old one.  You might not find a solution, but you may find a 1-in-a-billion idea that will be the next big “It” in libraries.  After all, they are soliciting ideas for NEXT Library 2015 when it returns to Aarhus, Denmark!

Keynote:  Redefine Play and Reimage Learning – Bo Stjerne Thomsen, Director, Research & Learning, the Lego Foundation

Library as Studio: Designing for Creativity –Architect Margaret Sullivan

Mapping Experiences – Going on a Service Safari – Melanie Higgins, Patrick Quattelbaum

Born Digital:  A Vibrant Future for Libraries and Communities – John Palfrey, Knight Foundation, Head of School, Phillips Academy

Design Backwards to Move Forwards:  Creating Interactive Technology Learning Strategies –Cuyahoga County Library

Thank you to the Arizona State Library for the scholarship that made this trip possible.

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