Originally written as classwork for the University of Illinois LIS program.
The idea for this particular innovative use of a library space was inspired but what I saw at a local library where I’ve been doing an IT practicum this semester. One staff member began a Teen Open Lab, and I had the chance to sit down and talk with him recently about the development of this space/idea. While looking through the resources for this week, I thought it was interesting how much of his description of the development process aligns with the IDEO Process. He didn’t present it in that structured of a format, but I found that the things he described, and the way the Lab runs, fit in really well with the 5 steps.
Dear Library Supervisor,
As you know, there is a recurrent issue involving noisy teen patrons congregating in the stacks on school day afternoons, shortly after the local middle and high schools let out. Since the particular area they are gathering in is near both the entrance to the library and the main circulation desk, they are a frequent concern for circulation staff nearby. The staff has expressed being uncomfortable with having to repeatedly chastise the noisy teens, often to little success and/or causing anger and discontent between the staff and the teens. It is my hope to suggest a solution that involves the teenagers in productive activities at the library, while also addressing the concerns from staff.
- Understand and Observe
It’s worth noting that the area that the teens are regularly gathering in is next to some of the only tables in this portion of the library. Although there are other, smaller seated sections scattered throughout the stacks, the teens appear to be looking for a larger space to meet in together. In return, this adds to the noise problem as identified by the circulation staff.
While there are other areas in the library designated for team work and collaboration, these seem to primarily be used by adults. By the time the teens are arriving, after the school day has ended, it seems that they are looking for a place of recreational and communal value that is not readily available for them at the library.
What does this mean for the library? The suggestion my department is putting forward is that we should work to create a space — with the teen’s input and involvement — that will allow them to access the resources and technologies the library has to offer. It will also provide a physical space more suited for their particular needs and preferences as library users.
The X Auditorium is currently available three days a week from 3 pm to 5 pm. We propose that this area be used as an open, moderated space for teens to meet, engage, and create with one another at the library.
Some of our staff members have expressed interest in offering their areas of expertise and interest to the teen space. Initial ideas for what we could use this space for include homework help, music lessons, and technology lessons.
- Prototype, evaluate, and refine
We will begin the process of developing this space next by involving those whom the project is intended for — the teens themselves. Led by a staff team, we plan on having an informal discussion with the teens that frequent the library after school is out. Our goal from this meeting (or meetings, as appropriate), is to find out in a casual and welcoming environment the following things:
- What do the teens expect out of the library? How do they see the library as a place? What do they believe the library offers — or should offer — to them?
- What do the teens think about the environment at the library? Do they feel welcomed by staff? Looked down upon?
- Would they be interested in a program like the one described?
- How would they envision the program? What changes would they make? What other things would they like to see and do?
Overall, our aim is to cultivate an environment that is more conducive to everyone. But since this is a project for our teenage patrons, we want to make sure that they are involved in each step of the development process, in order for this to truly be their space.
Implementation will take a number of things. It requires staff members, staff time, and staff expertise — at least to get started. Our goal is to involve the teens in as many ways possible, including in instructional and leading roles.
It will require providing the physical space and equipment necessary. We know from initial meetings that we will aim to have technology available for use, ranging from laptops, televisions, video games, and recording equipment.
This will require a commitment on the part of the library to both support and listen to the teens involved, in order to understand what they want to gain from the library — as a physical space and as an intellectual resource. We recognize that this process will require repeating and altering steps as we go, but we hope that some of the steps outlined here will help us towards achieving our overarching goal.