I recently downloaded the second mixtape – Acid Rap – from Chicago’s up and coming Chance the Rapper.
Listening to the track “Acid Rain,” a line made my ears perk up: “And I’m still Mr. YOUmedia.” Whaaa? Rap Genius confirms: And I’m still Mr. YOUmedia. Sure enough, Chicago Public’s YOUmedia was one of the places Chance the Rapper started performing.
“It was a really ill thing because it was smack in the center of downtown, so anybody from any school could come there because every train comes to the loop [downtown]. I met damn near all the producers on #10Day through this library. It was the spot.”
Consider this a complement to the “I graduated from the library” Bradbury quote we like to trot out. Clearly, a lot of creative output is the result of some sort of library use. But in most cases libraries have been neutral in that they don’t care if they’re for enjoyment, learning, inspiration, etc… or any combination. So what makes this example so great is that YOUmedia isn’t neutral in this way; it has the goal of helping kids create content. This example illustrates that creation focused libraries can have a significant impact.
Keeping libraries free from clutter shouldn’t solely be the purview of the fastidious. It’s something we all can achieve, and should! With less clutter, people will have an easier time of finding what they want, and they’ll have a more peaceful experience. Conversely, clutter in and around the library is a user experience issue we all must address.
Tidy up the following clutter hot spots, and your library will run leaner and cleaner.
This column has often advocated for smaller, more effective library websites, and we’ll start there once again. If you’re not convinced that your website is full of clutter, take a look at the site’s analytics (if you aren’t tracking analytics, start now).
How much of the site’s content is used on a regular basis? My guess? Way less than half. If something isn’t getting used, or is used only by library staff, remove it so you can highlight more prominently content that people are actually using. Also, remove any clip art or stock photographs. The resulting pages will be easier to read.
You can similarly declutter the writing on your site. Be concise. Remember, instead of telling folks that “the library is the cultural hub of the community and aims to provide excellent customer service,” it is far more effective just to demonstrate it.
Our collections are prime candidates for decluttering. Much like looking for unused content on your website, you need to pore over circulation statistics to find items that aren’t working hard enough to justify the shelf space they require. Keeping the classics is one thing, but holding on to Windows 3.1 for Dummies is another. Recycle anything that’s collecting dust.
Taking a wider view of your holdings, you might find that an entire segment is cluttering things up. Your print reference collection is probably already much smaller than it was five years ago. Can the rest of it disappear? Do you ever see all four of the microfilm readers in use at the same time? Here’s a specific suggestion: pay attention to your magazines. They get messy quickly.
The entrances to our buildings are often littered with free newspapers, public transit schedules, community events flyers, and library advertising. Yuck. Make sure you’re making a good first impression by keeping this area neat and focused on materials of value to your members.
Brochures, newsletters, etc
These displays often fall prey to the same mechanism of expansion as the above print materials in entrances: more items get piled on, rendering each one less likely to receive any attention. Be selective in your presentation of these items. Ultimately, aim to be selective in their development, producing fewer, more relevant items in the process.
While superfluous library programs might not be a major problem in your physical space, they can clutter a library’s mental space. Is your library continuing to host long-standing programs owing more to legacy than enthusiastic attendance? Perhaps it’s time for them to be put out to pasture. Freeing up time and financial resources can enable you to try something new.
Hanging a large number of signs can inadvertently create an unrestful environment, especially if the signs are not well designed. Take down every sign that you can. In the future, instead of putting up a sign, try to change the circumstances that are prompting you to do so. Your members will be better served, and your space will look better for the effort.
Your website, again!
Clutter is such an epidemic on library websites that it deserves a second mention. Have you already reduced the amount of stuff on your site? Consider cutting more. While you’re at it, consider setting up a regular schedule of decluttering to ensure that there’s a counterbalance to the regular process of adding new pages and sections.
All together now
Since clutter appears in so many different sectors of the library, it requires a whole-system approach toward great user experience in order to address it. Decluttering demands cross-departmental collaboration and the willingness of all staff to be attentive and open to change.
The final goal of decluttering isn’t to create a stark or even minimalist aesthetic; the goal is to increase simplicity and devote more time and effort to the services that are most important.
This first appeared in “The User Experience,” a column I write for LJ.
Recently I spent a morning with the web committee at the University of Pittsburgh’s Hillman Library. My thoughtful host told me that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s main library – the flagship of the whole program – was across the street. Clearly I had to take a peek.
The Hillman Library was a comfortable space and I wondered how the one across the street would compare. It compared favorably! Here’s some stuff I found impressive.
These signs appear over service desks. I noticed them right away though my gut tells their height might reduce their overall visibility. Regardless, “ask a librarian” is a much better solution than “reference” or “information” or even “help.”
Okay, so I think 99.9% of taped up 8.5″ x 11″ paper signs are a bad idea, yes. But this one struck my fancy. It is engagingly humorous and with its plain shapes and bold colors it has an attractive look.
A positively worded regulatory sign. While it would probably be better for library members if the rule didn’t exist, this is about as nice of a way to express the rule as possible.
The extra words on the sign are pretty powerful. They turn a sign that’s fine looking but completely blah into one that engages the reader as a human and makes a connection. Really nice.
Checkout how the marble stairs have worn. That’s a good usage statistic!
Have you seen this project by the fictional Department of Urban Betterment? It is a pretty neat repurposing some (largely) outmoded infrastructure to something else: an honors system book swap.
I know the word “library” has a few uses but I’m also a bit sad that we haven’t elevated it beyond the common “pile of books” use.
A new library at the edge of a public plaza – complete with tube stop – that hosts a farmers market and other community events.
Here’s a review of the building from the Guardian. It has some typical libraries = book talk but also some higher level sentiments:
And not, according to its architect, Piers Gough, for whom “books haven’t gone away. Libraries still hold these magic realms of invention, realms of ideas. They’re places where you’re not told what to think; they’re also places where you can stay and stop and spend as long as you like.”
More from the BBC: ‘Super library’ in Southwark opens its doors
What really surprised me though was seeing three VT students using it as a study/productivity space. TechPad offers a subscription model for “nomads” ($60 per month) providing access to a table and shared amenities. It was finals time and this was their hub.
This is a big challenge for academic libraries, right? Library space is important to students and that’s a legitimate need. But if librarians aren’t valued along with that space, there’s not much preventing students from finding other, perhaps more comfortable spaces, near campus.
An interesting aspect to this is that in conducting interview of students for Influx projects we’ve repeatedly heard students say that being in the library somehow increases their productivity. One person even told us that they visit the corners of the library where the wifi doesn’t reach to prevent distraction.
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro just launched the Journal of Learning Spaces. It is an open access journal so the full text is available for all to read freely.
Though the focus – at least of this first issue – is on classroom and not other learning spaces like libraries, there’s plenty of overlap that should be of interest to librarians.
I really nerded out with Use of swivel desks and aisle space to promote interaction in mid-sized college classrooms.
I don’t know anything about the services of the library or what goes on there. Let’s hope they’re as striking as the building!
Clicking though the city’s photos I noticed that the mayor handed out library branded chocolate at the grand opening.
I only mention this because the chocolate bars are the square shaped Ritter Sport, one of my favorites. The shape of the bars match the cube design of the building.
Yesterday I enjoyed a behind the scenes look at the Biblioteca Vasconcelos’ greenhouse and it is amazing. Sitting adjacent to the library it is connected via the library’s garden. There’s talk of turning it into a reading room with wireless access. !
Here are some full color views of this amazing and unique library space.