Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Library Design 101: Design Concepts

So you've observed your customers and staff and have taken extensive notes on how the library is used, but now what?  After all, we went to library school and I certainly don't remember any classes offering Library Design 101.  You probably never thought much about design before, but as I've written previously, a well planned space can positively influence you customers and staff and help achieve the ultimate user experience.  If design is a concept that terrifies you, then worry no more because I am here to help with this three part post on Design Concepts, Logical Arrangements, and Designing for the Future.  Let's get started with some basic design concepts:

Every library building and community is different and the library's design should reflect that.  I've had the pleasure of working at several libraries, all different in design and type of community served, but they each taught me one valuable lesson - it's what's on the inside that counts.  Whether you are in a brand new, state-of-the-art building, a historic piece of architecture, or a converted building, you probably have little control over the physical structure of the building.  That's okay because you can definitely take advantage of the inside.

Community standards play a big role in libraries - it affects the books we purchase and the programs we offer - so it stands to reason that the design of our buildings should actively reflect those same community standards.  Take, for instance, the design of the Seattle Public Library's Central Library and its very contemporary design.  From the architecture to the interior design, the style reflects the community standards.  Obviously this type of design wouldn't go over as well in a small town community (not even considering the budget constraints,) but for a city that is known for its modernity the design is just right. The library you work in, however, is most likely to resembles the picture above.  An older building, true, but still full of potential on the inside.  If you work in an older building - don't fret too much about the outdated exterior - take control of the interior.  Considering the community standards, think about how these interior designs may (or may not) fit.

  • Contemporary - Probably the most used design style in libraries today, this style is often a safe bet because it is, well, contemporary.  Defined by the styles of the current time, libraries often incorporate sleek furniture and lighting like you see in the picture to the left.  This look comes standard on most newly built or renovated libraries but there is no reason to not put this style into a building like the one above. Because it is more cost effective to make cosmetic changes than build a new structure, bringing the interior into contemporary design is a great way to keep the library relevant.
  • Traditional - Of course, it may be that your community is not ready for a contemporary design.  That's okay, because we are designing our library based on community standards.  For this community you may want to take a traditional approach.  The traditional style focuses more on color and comfort than anything else.  Think of your living room and try to invoke some of the same emotions.
  • Rustic
  • Rustic - A design that is exactly what you think it is, uses darker hues along with wood and metals such as iron and copper.  In this library in Colorado, the carved wood for the side table and cozy fireplace to read books by are signature features of the rustic style.  
  • Modern - I referenced Seattle's main library before and that's because it has been the point of reference for modern library design over the last couple of years.  Modern is a term that was coined in the 1920s and we still seem to use it to describe "forward thinking" design.  Modern is definitely not for every library, but certain additions of furniture or bold/bright colors will certainly modernize a library and bring it into a contemporary design.
Knowing these different styles is important if you want to design by community.  Following the belief that "form follows function," a term coined by the Bauhaus, it is important to understand what your community's expectations will be.  After you've thought of the overall concept for your library, you can begin to consider spacial function and how the community will actually use the space.  We'll cover that on the next post - Library Design 101: Logical Arrangements.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Space + Staff = Greatness

I commented to my supervisor the other day that I could really see a change in the way the library is used by our customers, thinking that we may have finally achieved the concept of the "The Third Place."  I attributed this positive change to the thoughtfulness of the space.  My supervisor, as any good boss would do, was quick to point out that it was definitely the staff's great customer service as well.  But, of course, it was the staff!  Within the library, the space and the staff are not mutually exclusive as one might think.  It's all in the user experience - you can't have one without the other.

It should not come as a shock to you that color and design influences emotions.  Most of the time we are interested in the effects that design has on our customers.  For example, the use of McDonald's Red and Yellow colors are meant to inspire satiety and invoke uneasiness to make you leave promptly thereafter.   Design follows the same principle.  Open design concepts make spaces more inviting (hence my comment regarding the space affecting our customers use.)  But the open concept also feels inviting to staff, as well, and encourages them to be at their best.  Here are three reasons why design directly influences your staff's customer service level:

The functionality of space means each piece of furniture is placed with a specific function in mind.  Giving thought to the everyday routine, just the simple act of moving a waste paper basket can mean freeing up seconds of staff time.  Those seconds add up to minutes and everyone's job is made a little easier.  Just as I suggested to observe how customers use the library, let me add that observing how staff use the same space can help you make appropriate changes.

The important thing to remember is that functions change over time.  The way customers use the library now is slightly different from 10 years ago so it makes sense that our behind-the-scenes operations have changed a bit, too.  Reevaluating the functionality of furniture and space should be done consistently and, if I may add, should also be reactionary to staff input.  In my branch, when several staff members decided they would like to try rearranging the sorting carts to improve efficiency we gave it a trial run.  In the end, we collectively decided that the new arrangement didn't work. The fact that we tried a new method, however, meant something profound - staff voices were heard and acted upon.

Staff take pride in a beautiful workplace. Having taken the time to carefully think out the design we use, whether it be for furniture, paint, signs, or displays, everything is part of one cohesive unit that adds to an overall effect.  The more appealing the space becomes, the more likely staff are going to nurture the space and aid in its effectiveness.  The library is essentially an evolving work of art that invigorates and motivates staff.

It is a bold statement - to say that design can do so much - but in my experience from visiting libraries, I've noticed a direct correlation between customer service and library design.  I think a quantitative study regarding this theory would be interesting to pursue.

The idea behind "The Third Place" accounts for comfort.  If the space is not comfortable, no one will want to be a part of it.  For staff, the library is the "second place" - work.  If you've considered the function of each piece of furniture and rearranged so that staff are taking pride in their work space, then you should notice a certain level of comfort start to set in.  Comfort is good.  If staff have to be at work, it may as well be comforting to them.  I know my worst customer service happens on my "off" days so, it stands to reason that, if staff are not happy then the customers will not be happy either.

Is comfort ever a bad thing?  While I wouldn't say that comfort in of itself is bad, I do think it can sometimes lead to complacency.  We begin to take things for granted and let ourselves slide but you can prevent that with a simple change of display.  Staff are impacted by the slightest visual change and by altering simple design elements of the library space (i.e. changing a display, moving a table, moving a collection, etc.) you keep them motivated while keeping up that level of pride in the overall design.

Maybe it seems too good to be true - getting better customer service out of your employees by sprucing up the place - but it sure couldn't hurt.  I recommend making a change because, at the very least, your customers will benefit from a well thought out design.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Prepare to be Dazzling

From the introduction of my blog I've been posting about three things: The User Experience, Customer Service, and Training.  I've focused intensely on customer service the past several months so this post is all about training - specifically how to be a good trainer.  In the past I've written about how to come up with training topics, how to choose the right format, and even a couple of tidbits on what to do during the training session like role playing (or, why you shouldn't include role playing.)  This post, however, is all about presentation.  In order to dazzle your trainees, you have to be dazzling yourself.

One of my favorite librarians is Steven Bell.  He writes about all of my favorite topics and makes a mean presentation.  He recently wrote this about making presentations and, while one could argue that making presentations and leading a training session are two completely different things, they definitely share more similarities than differences.  In his post, he references three things to making a great presentation which I will focus on here in regard to training.  The three things, paraphrased as needed, are listed below:
  1. It's about the audience - not me.
  2. I'm going to enjoy this - not just survive it.
  3. I will live in the moment and not stress if I forget something or if a problem occurs.
Me in the thick of it
These are not revolutionary ideas, but when put to use they make a world of difference.  Let's look at them separately and within the context of training.

"It's About the Audience - Not Me"
As you prepare your training, you should consider first what your trainees want to know - not necessarily what you want to teach them.  Most of the time, the two needs overlap, but every once in a while a trainer has not correctly evaluated the needs of the trainees.  It is instances such as these where the training session seems to fall apart.  You can't guarantee a perfect training every time, but you can certainly take precautions.

Before beginning a session, I often like to ask "what would you like to take away from this session."  Knowing this tidbit of information can help you stay on track and cover key areas of importance.  If you know who will be attending prior to the training, you can ask participants in advance to help you structure the lesson.

Think about who will be attending your training.  You can't always know for sure, but specific topics attract different demographics with varying skills.  In the next several weeks, I am offering a Computer Basics class to cover the most basic components of computer literacy.  I have no idea who will attend but I can make a pretty good guess that most trainees will be in a targeted age range and will have a specific reason for wanting to learn the computer.  Knowing this information has helped me tailor my vocabulary, posture, and overall delivery of the training.

"I'm Going to Enjoy This - Not Just Survive It"
If you can fool yourself into being in better mood, you can certainly trick yourself into enjoyment.  But, the truth is, you shouldn't have to trick yourself into anything.  You are the expert, that's why people have come to learn from you! When placed in front of an audience, you should be feeling a rush of adrenaline.  Use that natural high to show your enthusiasm and the trainees will pick up on your energetic vibe, enjoying what you have to offer.  The best way to enjoy yourself is by doing the next step . . .

"I Will Live in the Moment and Not Stress if I Forget Something or a Problem Occurs"
One of the only ways to enjoy yourself during this session is to relax.  I've already stated that you are the expert and, that being said, it's okay to mess up.  Accepting the fact that you aren't perfect and you may forget something will put you at ease.  If you are relaxed, then you are less likely to forget.

The nature of training is that the unexpected may occur.  If a major problem does happen (i.e. a projector isn't cooperating, there is no wifi even though you were promised there would be, etc.) don't sweat it.  People are there for the information, not your cool slides, so give the people what they need.  You will be surprised by how much that adrenaline carries you through the most difficult of situations.  Presumably, you like the topic you are training on so you should let that passion show through.  If it turns out you don't like the subject matter, then perhaps find someone else to lead the session - one rotten apple spoils the bunch!

As the trainer, you set the tone for the entire session.  By letting go, you embrace the possibility of a better class every time.