May 26, 2018

MLD: Masters in Library Design, Not Science | From the Bell Tower

Steven BellHow many LIS program graduates would identify as scientists, ready to conduct experiments and make new discoveries in information theory, practice, and behavior? Probably far fewer than those who get a library job where they practice design.

I had the good fortune to attend a lecture by Joe Janes that was sponsored by the new Center for the Study of Libraries, Information, & Society at Drexel University, Philadelphia. “Libraries: What Is the Way Forward?” was an excellent, thought-provoking talk that asked some important questions. One of them could have been, “What business are libraries in?” What is it that librarians do, could do, or must do to improve the quality of life in their communities? Janes put it succinctly: we make everything better. We make everyone else better. Whether it’s providing computer access in neighborhoods afflicted by the digital divide, providing education for children whose school library closed long ago, helping the unemployed find jobs, or enabling the illiterate to change their lives, librarians make things better.

Before library staff can accomplish that basic mission, though, the first priority is making the library better. We must have top-notch skills. We must do our best with the facilities we have. We must wisely leverage our available resources for the benefit of community members. Above all, we have to be better at designing a total library experience that makes it all work better together. As Janes asked (and answered), “How do we get there?” I would add one more thing we need to do: get better at design.

Rising Trend

Library Journal certainly recognizes the importance of design as it applies to great libraries. By design, LJ has added serious design-related content. Aaron Schmidt’s column about designing library experiences. Offering a regular Design Institute that travels from city to city. Meredith Schwartz’s column Design4Impact, which highlights outstanding examples of libraries using smart design to get better. A webinar series on transforming the library by designing better library experiences. As a student of library experience design, I’ve personally observed a growing trend in the library profession over the past few years that recognizes the value of design across many functional areas of librarianship, whether it’s instruction, signage, programming, assessment, or any number of services we offer our communities. In the most recent Placement & Salaries Survey, there were 57 positions filled in the area of usability/UX/UI design and one of the hottest positions was user experience librarian. We care about design. Given the growing integration of design thinking and practice into librarianship, LIS programs should explore whether contemporary library education would benefit from more design philosophy in the curriculum.

Turn Out the Graduates We Need

In his talk, Janes shared an anecdote that would no doubt sound familiar to the deans and faculty at every LIS program. A librarian approached Janes and proceeded to complain about the lack of workplace readiness among the graduates emerging from his library school program. Janes is fine with hearing constructive criticism from the employers of his graduates, but he cannot hide his displeasure at those who aimlessly complain yet offer no useful suggestions for what LIS programs need to do to improve the preparedness of their students. Given the diverse nature of library work, I suspect there’s little LIS educators can do to prepare students who can “hit the ground running” for every possible setting. But what if, in addition to other core values instilled in LIS programs, such as protecting patron privacy and defending intellectual freedom, LIS students learned and practiced methods for tackling tough problems and developing thoughtful solutions—in any situation. Academic libraries need LIS graduates who can assess situations and resources, identify the source and nature of a problem, and then craft an appropriate solution. In other words, educate students to identify, frame, think through, and solve problems the way designers do. That means integrating design philosophy and work approaches into the LIS curriculum.

Find Examples Elsewhere

Integrating design thinking into nondesign professional education programs is hardly a new idea. Many business schools adapt the curriculum of their MBA programs to reduce the focus on purely quantitative thinking in order to add more design approach thinking. Education colleges are looking to do the same in their teacher training programs. TrueSchool Studio uses research and design best practices to help schools around the country achieve student learning outcomes. It takes a bold approach to education reform: teach school leaders and educators to approach their problems like designers. The program has taught over 200 educators from 60 Chicago schools design skills that help them develop solutions for personalized learning. IDEO, the world’s premier design firm, offers K–12 educators a toolbox and training to help with the integration of design thinking for teachers. Not that all LIS programs should jump on a bandwagon for integrating design thinking and practices into their curriculum, but given the positive impact it’s had in business and education programs, there should be some LIS educators exploring the possibilities. Why not invite IDEO designers to the next ALISE conference to engage in conversation about design and LIS education?

Who’s Going First?

Tossing out ideas about how to change LIS education is easy. Changing LIS education is probably pretty darn difficult. Beyond just creating a significant shift in the curriculum, what would a more design-influenced LIS education mean for American Library Association accreditation standards? Perhaps a good starting point would involve a team of LIS faculty spending some time at the Stanford D-School to gain insight into what design education involves. Since design education often involves studio-based, hands-on learning, how could design education practices be adapted to LIS programs that are increasingly delivered online? If LIS educators hear librarian practitioners venting about today’s LIS graduates, we need to work together to figure out the right set of skills—and philosophical foundation—LIS graduates need today and over the next 30 or 40 years of their careers. Establishing that libraries and librarians make things better, locally and globally, is a simple idea that resonates with me. Design may be the right path to a future where we get better and make the world a better place. The first LIS program that evolves to become the D-School of librarianship will gain a competitive edge in getting us there. Any takers?

 

 

 

Steven Bell About Steven Bell

Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, is the current vice president/president-elect of ACRL. For more from Steven visit his blogs, Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog and Designing Better Libraries or visit his website.

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Comments

  1. Library Employee says:

    What I dont understand is why librarians think an MLS must cover everything involved with running and managing a library. If you want people with good design skills, hire a designer. If you want a professional looking web site, hire a professional web designer and UI person.
    Why do you need a “User Experience Librarian”? Instead, hire a UI professional!
    Banks dont hire finance majors to manage and design their web sites, so why do libraries think that the ONLY people that can work in a library is a librarian? If you want good service, hire a management professional.
    These days, the smart libraries are realizing it takes more than just people with an MLS to bring libraries into the 21st century.
    The group-think and circular reasoning are what is killing libraries.

    • I suppose that if all you wanted to do was design a brochure or a website, you might be better off hiring a professional to do it. But I’m talking about something much bigger than that. The type of UX that I propose for libraries is a total experience – what is the experience that you want your community members to have when they come to the library and then designing the many touchpoints of the library so that the staff has the capacity to delivery on that experience. I think that librarians are the most qualified professionals to develop and design that experience – based on their knowledge and understanding of the needs of the community. I’m pretty sure that if a bank wanted to design an experience for their customers, they’d spend some time involving the professionals who design and deliver the financial services and products. I also think it’s really important for all library staff to have a a role in designing the UX because it’s the front line staff, not a UI specialist who designs the home page, that will ultimately have to deliver on the experience. Thanks for your comment.