September 24, 2017

Library Inspiration | The User Experience

Aaron SchmidtReading about interesting library programs and services always inspires me. The ones I like best challenge my understanding of what libraries are and what they can do. So this month, I want to highlight a number of library offerings that have caught my attention.

My Librarian, Multnomah County, OR

What a great way to highlight the value of Multnomah County Library’s librarians and to facilitate the creation of personal connections. The page describing this service is easy to use and attractive, and patrons can choose among a variety of ways to interact with their librarian: via email, phone, chat, video chat, or in person. I love the idea of having a personal librarian guide helping people navigate the intricacies of our institutions.

Cookbook Clubs

In these programs, folks cook out of a selected cookbook and come together to share and discuss the food. Full disclosure: I probably like these programs because I love to eat. There’s more to it, though. These programs are a great example of adding value to books and creating an experience around them. Circulating cookbooks is great, but adding this sort of experiential and social value layers on another dimension that can enrich some people’s lives. I’d love to hear of a library taking this idea to the next level and hosting the actual cooking, too.

Literary Lots, Cleveland PL

Last summer, the Cleveland Public Library partnered with a number of organizations to transform vacant and underused properties into spaces from children’s books. Amazing! They fund­raised through Kickstarter, and the result was “a transformative experience that combines creative land reuse, artist engagement, youth education, and urban renewal.” This is an interesting extension of a classic library service: story time. What other library classics can we use as the kernel for fresh ideas?

GOING TO THE SOURCE Multnomah County Library’s My Librarian site connects patrons directly with librarians for expert recommendations

GOING TO THE SOURCE Multnomah County Library’s My Librarian site connects patrons directly with librarians for expert recommendations

Artist and Musician Spaces

Libraries encourage creativity, and they should also encourage creation. The Red Hook and Williamsburg branches of the Brooklyn Public Library will soon have visual arts and performance spaces for rent. A dance company renting one of the spots will remunerate the library with 100 hours of performance. Last summer’s rap sensation Chance the Rapper honed his skills at Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia. I hope we can have even more artists mentioning the library in their performances.

Addressing Homelessness

People without homes have just as much of a right to use the library as people with homes. While this is an easy enough statement to make, putting the idea into practice doesn’t always play out as smoothly. The American Library Association has a list of various libraries working to reduce homelessness, and while I think this is a noble goal in and of itself, what I want to highlight here is the deep level of thinking about the issue that led these libraries to implement programs. Attempting to facilitate harmonious library use by relying solely on regulatory measures often leads to an antagonistic dynamic. And that’s no good for anyone. Instead, these libraries aim to go beyond dealing with symptoms and go to the root of the issue. Libraries should spend time thinking hard at this level for everything they do, whether it is education or entertainment.

Customizing programs

Are these ideas worth copying? I think so, but remember: no library program or service should be duplicated just because another library is doing it. Above all, new ideas are worth pursuing only if they’ll solve the right problems for your community.

Aaron Schmidt ( is a principal at the library user experience consultancy Influx ( He is a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker. He writes at

This article was published in Library Journal's June 1, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Aaron Schmidt About Aaron Schmidt

Aaron Schmidt ( is a principal at the library user experience consultancy Influx ( He is a 2005 LJ Mover & Shaker. He writes at

Design Institute Heads to Washington!
On Friday, October 20, in partnership with Fort Vancouver Regional Library—at its award-winning Vancouver Community Library (WA)—the newest installment of Library Journal’s building and design event will provide ideas and inspiration for renovating, retrofitting, or re-building your library, no matter your budget!
Designing the Future: A Design Thinking Workshop
The challenges facing libraries are real, complex, and varied. As such, they require new points of view, tools, and strategies. This full-day workshop on October 17 at Hartford Public Library (CT) will tackle real-life problems during a series of collaborative exercises led by experienced design thinking facilitators from Chicago Public Library. Please call 646-380-0773 to inquire about our discounted team rates.


  1. Emily Moore says:

    Great collection of library coolness! Hopefully this could be a recurring article?

  2. Libraries offer so much more these days. Anyone with access to the internet can check their local libraries calendar and quickly see everything they have to offer for the month. You might be surprised to see what’s going on, I know I was.