Using Design Thinking to Re-imagine the Library by Lorrie Culver

I wonder (as I teach the book Wonder to fifth graders during summer school) how many of us independent school librarians work at schools that just don’t seem to know where the library fits within the hierarchy of the school.

I’ve now worked in the library at La Jolla Country Day for ten years. For the first several years, the library was under the supervision of the assistant head for curriculum. Four years ago the board chose not to renew the contracts for the head of school or for our supervisor, the assistant head. They instead hired an interim head for the new school year. While the interim was on campus, we worked under her and then under our respective divisions (lower, middle and upper schools). When our current head of school came on board three years ago, we worked directly for him. Then this past school year, several employees were elevated to assistant heads. We now work for the Assistant Head for Innovation and Design. For the upcoming school year (finally), a new Assistant Head in charge of Curriculum was hired (actually the Middle School Head was promoted). I asked for the library to be put under her umbrella and was not completely turned down … I was just told that it wouldn’t happen for the upcoming school year. Sigh…

So, what is it like working for an engineer whose focus is to expand the robotics, coding and virtual reality programs? We librarians have been tasked with “re-imagining the library.” At first, I was resistant as our library had just been renovated during the interim head’s tenure … and, as has happened with other school libraries, we were only “consulted” at the end of the process. The renovations were really a construct for the board … they wanted the library to be more “welcoming,” i.e., a lounge for students to hang out, eat and play video games while others were trying to study. So my feeling was that the school was not going to shell out more money even if we came up with some really great “re-imagining” ideas.

However, we librarians set to work and interviewed students, teachers and parents and asked each how they used the library. The interviews with students were the most illuminating. Evidently, certain areas of the library were designated for seniors and were seen and be seen areas. Also, the stairs were used to evade deans and to play hide-and-seek.

Each librarian was also asked to use pro grow funds to visit museums and specialty libraries  and to see how they curate their collections and utilize their space. We held meetings and over the course of the school year, came up with three insight statements and problem statements.

Research and library skills are not being consistently taught across campus because teachers and students may not understand the value of good research, resources are complex and unintuitive, or teachers are unaware of the librarian’s skills, expertise and mobility.

PROBLEM STATEMENT 1: How might we create a better understanding of the value of good research, reduce the complexity and increase the usability of our resources throughout the campus while increasing the awareness of the librarians and their skills, expertise and mobility?

There is an unclear culture in the library that allows for varying and often times conflicting activities creating an unwelcome environment for the current minority because of a lack of well-designated and planned spaces.

How might we create a clear culture in the library that allows for a range of concurrent activities while creating a welcoming environment and improving the usability of our space?

The library is being utilized for many other services beyond research and reader’s advisory because of open hours, centralized location and proximity to other services such as IT.

How might we support the variety of needs of our community beyond our core competencies that have been so far met in an ad hoc manner?

So, after working on our re-imagining project for the 2016/2017 school year, we are still in the planning phases. Also, to be clear, even though our school serves students from age 3 through grade twelve, much of our discussion focused on our middle and upper school library. Our lower school library is in the same building but separated by floors (the lower school library is on the ground floor and the middle/upper school library is on the second floor).

The library will look different when students return as we are trying out a few changes based on our insights. We will no longer allow all food – just covered drinks. We also are looking into Ebsco’s Discovery Streaming. Our students definitely have to click too many times to access our databases now. One last change is that we have eliminated most of our desktop computers. We have a BYOD policy and we found that students were using the large screens of the desktops to play games … loudly and with other students.

We will continue our re-imagining meetings in the fall and monitor how the changes affect the students and their use of the library. I’ll also post a follow-up blog.
Happy Summer all!

4 thoughts on “Using Design Thinking to Re-imagine the Library by Lorrie Culver

  1. Good luck in these difficult times when administrators can’t figure out what the value of the library is and how it fits into the culture of the school.

    • Thanks, Allison. Unfortunately, I think that many of us struggle with this. I keep trying to “justify ourselves” by showing our value added … and that many public school libraries no longer have librarians, just media techs.

      Will keep trying to fight the good fight!

  2. I love this post! Your first insight is one that’s been keeping me up at night — and it’s one I know that I cannot tackle alone. I admire your planning! Are you working with your co-librarians or are others involved? Can’t wait to read about your progress!

    • Hi Natalie,

      Yes, the three of us librarians (lower, middle and upper) are working together, along with our part-time library assistant. We share all with my supervisor, the Design and Innovation head. The funny thing is that he knows nothing about libraries, so all of our insights are brand new to him:)

      Yes, we are also learning as we go through the process (as Design Thinking was new to all of us librarians), but some of the insights we could have predicted at the beginning. We’ll continue working through these starting again in the fall when all return from summer break.

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