Model Programme for Public Libraries

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User involvement

A design principle called design thinking focuses on the users' needs and wishes. The idea is that as citizens are the ones who use the libraries, citizens are crucial in developing and designing the libraries.

Involving the users

Libraries are in the middle of a shift from being media-orientated to being citizen-orientated. Citizens serve as an inspiration and provide insight into what needs to be changed. In the light of this development, the libraries are heading towards a new innovation practice that focuses on co-creation with the users. It is about including the users and activating the knowledge that they may not know they have. This enhances the users' sense of ownership and commitment in relation to the library. From being those for whom we design something, the users become, to a greater extent, a part of the process. The new innovation practice has been on its way for years through many projects and programmes, which have applied different processes to create changes in collaboration with the users.

Design thinking

The user-involving methods and approaches that are used have many names. User-driven innovation, service design, co-creation and user involvement. A combining, general term for development anchored in the users' needs is design thinking.

Design thinking is an iterative process, which is user-centric and based on a deep understanding of the users' needs combined with experiments and prototypes. It is about getting out and away from the desk and the meeting room – seeing the world in a fresh perspective. This will enable us to learn something new about the library and the users that we know so well. Read the case on Vesthimmerland's use of user involvement here.

In a design thinking process, ideas are visualised at an early stage. Different concepts are presented to users at the checkout desk to obtain feedback.

Knowledge rather than assumptions

Applying design thinking and service design, we can ensure that we base interior design, technology and new services on knowledge rather than assumptions about the users. In other words, it is not a question of asking the users – it is about observing them and understanding how they feel and experience a service or a visit to the library.

The design thinking process

The design thinking process consists of three phases:

 Inspiration: Learn something about the world.

  1. Ideation: Analyse what you have learnt and get ideas.
  2. Iteration: Build prototypes and learn more about your users.

 These three phases are repeated over and over in an iterative process.

A new mindset

If you want to create a library in collaboration with the users, you need to see co-creation and design thinking as both a new mindset and a method. 

Part of the process and the problem-solving is to identify the right problem. In order to do this, you need to open up the organisation and establish a flexible and open platform, e.g. with access to data and new tools for the users, inviting them to participate in the development.

Design-driven methods

Co-creation processes are not driven by a focus on the organisation's wishes or an idea that an employee has come up with, but rather by a focus on and an understanding of the users' situations and needs. A number of methods can serve to obtain this insight. Anything from a chat with users about what they like about a service and, not least, what they do not like. 

However, the methods can be quite comprehensive. If, for instance, you would like to gain a systematic insight into user needs, you need to conduct thorough studies, using workshops, observations and interviews inspired by anthropological studies.

Experiment and learn!

It is crucial to understand that design thinking and co-creation is not asking what specific requirements citizens have to libraries, but revealing needs through interviews, observations, visualisation and testing of prototypes. Whether an experiment or a prototype is successful or fails is far less important than the learning we gain from experimenting in collaboration with the users.

Design thinking at libraries – also a global action area

Since 2013, Aarhus Public Libraries have worked closely with Chicago Public Libraries and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on spreading the design thinking concept to the global library field. In collaboration with the design agency IDEO, a methods handbook, a toolkit, has been developed, which shows how design thinking can be used at libraries.

Make your own contribution via the Facebook group

If you have examples or ideas about user involvement or if you have comments to the actual design challenge, please feel free to comment via the Facebook group.

17. Mar 2017 at. 14:39

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