Five years ago, in July 2010, I had my first talk about UX in Libraries at the ETH Zürich. It had the title “User Experience Design für öffentliche Bibliotheken: Von der Buchleihzentrale zum Zentrum der Urbanität“ (UX design for public libraries: from a book loaning office to the centre of urbanity). After this first talk lots of presentations followed, like the one concerning information architecture in libraries and how it supports orientation and navigation of the people in the library (03/2011 in Darmstadt, Germany) or the one in Oslo, Norway (08/2011): „Renaissance of the Library: Catalyser for Participation in Cultural Life and Centre of Urbanity“. Now, some years later, I recognise that the topic UX isn’t unknown in the library community any more.
There has been a conference in UK concerning UX in Libraries this spring – what a shame that I wasn’t there! Here are two amazing keynotes of this conference:
Public libraries are not just a place to loan books, but they may be cultural and social midpoints of a city / community / university. They provide a wide range of services like exhibitions, readings, discussions, events, and meeting spaces for heterogenic groups of users. The participation of a city’s population, for instance, in these spatial and social library services is crucial for urbanity and the development of knowledge cities.
Research questions for forthcoming projects concerning public libraries in cities could be:
- Under which circumstances and in which way(s) can public libraries function as centres of urbanity?
- How do every day practices and social structures change because of new designed and built public libraries ?
- How should contents and spaces of public libraries be like to provide different material and social spaces for heterogenic groups of potential users to reach a high level of participation?
For me it is crucial that every library planning starts with good analysis on a sociological / ethnographical basis. If it is an existing library, planned to be redesigned / reorganised, the following questions are essential:
- Do the people know about the library? Do they know where it is, how to enter it and how to use it? (no, this is not self-evident! My empirical research shows: often the people don’t know about a special library, they can’t find the entrance easily, they have huge problems with the orientation and navigation within the building and so on).
- Where or with which use cases do the people struggle in a library?
- What kind of functionality and sense do the people ascribe to the library (spaces)? Where and why do they choose their favourite places in a library? What do these places mean to them? There is always some expression of place identity in the appropriation of space.
- What is the intrinsic logic (“Eigenlogik”) of the library and the surrounding spaces? See for this topic also my last blog post concerning “Eigenlogik der Bibliotheken” (in German).
So to all you librarians and library managers out there: Hire sociologist and ethnographers, ask them to analyse your libraries. Engage the people in designing new library spaces by implementing concepts like design thinking in your innovation processes!
 Carrillo, Francisco Javier. 2006. „Knowledge Cities. Approaches, Experiences, and Perspectives.“ Burlington/Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
 Edinger, Eva-Christina, 2014: Examining Space Perceptions. Combining Visual and Verbal Data with Reactive and Non-Reactive Methods in Studies of the Elderly and Library Users. Historical Research, Jg. 39 (2): S. 181-202.