I do not currently work in a library so I decided to go back to my public library Contextual Inquiry for some inspiration for my new service memo. On my contextual inquiry trip I noticed a few pain points. I decided to select one of medium difficulty and imagine coming up with a solution for it. This memo is informed by my contextual inquiry trip but with a lot of hypothetical thrown in.
Laptop/Wifi Area Redesign
TO: Mary Elizabeth Tipton, Director
Sunnydale Public Library
FROM: The User Experience Team
Dear Ms. Tipton,
As you are aware, the configuration of our Laptop/Wifi Area has presented some pain points for our library members. The existing large tables work well for groups, but in practice, the majority of our daytime users are individuals with their own devices. During late afternoon (after school) and evening hours, more groups utilize the tables, but there is still wasted space. Our team has developed a proposal for redesign of the area that would improve our members’ experience of our library.
Using the IDEO process (Moen, 2001) our UX team has investigated the space, brainstormed, tested out a small prototype of a redesign, solicited library member feedback and drawn conclusions on what we believe to be a new design that will delight our library members. With your approval, we would like to implement the final recommendations outlined in Step 5 of this memo.
Step 1: Understand and Observe
Team members spent several days at different library times observing how the Laptop/Wifi area is actually used. Currently the space consists of several large rectangular tables that seat about 6 people, with chairs. Also in this area are computer carrels with dividers, holding 8 total dedicated desktop computers that can be used by library members. There is no soft seating in this area. There is some soft seating in the nearby stacks area.
Daytime hour observations:
- Almost all large tables are “filled” by one individual with his/her own device or reading a newspaper from the adjacent newspaper/magazine area
- Dedicated library desktop computers are underutilized, rarely more than 1 or 2 in use at one time
- Rather than “intrude” on someone who is seated at a table, new patrons will sit in the stacks or against a wall with their devices
- Occasionally people try and use the computer carrels with their own devices; this is awkward as the computer and keyboard take up almost all the space on the carrel surface, yet they seem to prefer trying to manage this in order to have an individual space
- Teen Space empty during most daylight hours (until schools get out)
After school/evening/weekend observations:
- Tables more likely to be taken up by groups working together but there are still a number of individuals who need workspace
- Teen space in heavy use
- Area noise level increases
- Library desktops still underutilized though less so; about half are in use at any given time
- Minimal newspaper/magazine reading
- Library members less likely to sit on the floor or disperse to the stacks (where soft seating is available)
Step 2: Synthesize
After observing and recording, the user experience team gathered to analyze our observations and understand what is going on in the Laptop/Wifi space. We wrote observations on sticky notes so that we could sort them and see patterns. The major category that struck us was the fact that space is wasted by the inflexibility of the furniture. Another observation is that people make adaptations to the space (examples of this were moving keyboards to one side of the computer carrels so that they could use their own devices, or sitting on the carpet against the wall rather than asking to share a table already occupied by another user.) Also, patterns of use are different at different times of day. Unsurprisingly the teen space sees almost no use during school hours, and heavy use once schools get out for the day.
- Waste of space
- Inflexibility of furniture
- Variability of usage patterns at different times
- Underutilization of dedicated computers
- Patron-driven adaptations to space
Step 3: Visualize
At this point the UX team began brainstorming ideas to improve this space for our library members. We came up with the following list of ideas:
- Decrease dedicated library desktops to free up carrel space for members’ own devices
- Increase number of loaner laptops to keep an equivalent number of library computers available (although most members seem to bring their own devices, we need to remain aware of digital divide issues)
- Include soft seating as well as desk/table space in the area
- create flexible furniture spaces to adapt the space as needed, for example:
- Tables with removable dividers that can easily be individual carrels OR a table for group work
- Flexible soft seating that can be rearranged for group seating or individual reading/work space)
- Create flexible signage to change the purpose of spaces throughout the day (“Group Work” space converts to “Teen Space” after school hours e.g.)
Step 4: Prototype
In order to test our design ideas, we decided to test drive a few changes in the area:
- Replaced one large table with a modular table with dividers (that could be carrels or a group work table)
- Removed two (out of eight) desktop computers to create empty “bring your own device” carrels
- Moved two soft chairs from the stacks area to the Laptop/Wifi area
- “Test drive” flexible signage in the teen space (“Group Work during school hours, “Teen Space” after school/weekend hours)
We then spent a couple of weeks observing the effects of these changes, as well as soliciting library member feedback. Most feedback was positive but we did discover one of our ideas that didn’t really work out.
Step 5: Implement
As a result of observations and feedback from the prototype period, we have drawn the following conclusions:
- The flexible modular table was very popular and allowed members to adapt the space to prevailing usage pattern during the time slot.
- Empty carrels were also very popular and dedicated desktops were still not used at capacity for most of the day despite there being fewer of them
- Small increase in requests for loaner laptops
- Soft chairs were popular, especially for newspaper reading and tablet use
- The teen space/group space experiment did not work well. Occasionally we faced the prospect of asking adults to leave so teens could use the space. Teens reported discomfort at having their dedicated space taken away. Space that is “theirs” is very important to teen library members, more so than to adult members.
Final Redesign Recommendations
As a result of these observations, we recommend the following for the final redesign of the Laptop/Wifi Area:
- Replace 5 of 6 existing tables with modular tables with removable dividers
- Add flexible soft seating that can be group or individual seating as needed
- Remove four out of eight dedicated desktop computers and use half of the carrels as bring your own device carrels
- Add four loaner laptops
- Discontinue flexible signage and preserve dedicated teen area
With your approval, we look forward to delighting our members with our new and adaptable Laptop/Wifi space!
The UX Team
Moen, R. (2001). A review of the IDEO process [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/web-assets/2001/10/a-review-of-the-ideo-process
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