Kelly Mccomas

Public Libraries as Social Infrastructure

Experience Design for Teens

Project Overview
For my Masters thesis, I focused on the role of public libraries as social and community infrastructure. I am designing a team-based library program that encourages young community members to connect with library resources, librarians, and other users so that the library can be a trusted safe space for learning and gathering.

Dates - March 2020 - ongoing
My Contributions
Researcher - I conducted over 10 primary research interviews and extensive secondary research. I designed qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods and led 10 concept evaluation sessions with teens and library experts.

Experience Designer - I am using my research insights to design and prototype my solution.

The Problem

Building Connections at the Library

Public libraries are an essential piece of what sociologist Eric Klinenberg calls social infrastructure: "the physical elements of community that act as a conduit to bring people together and build social capital through recurring interactions". In a global pandemic, libraries and their resources are more important than ever for young people, and also more difficult to access.

Problem Statement
How might we encourage young community members to connect with librarians and other users so that the library can be a trusted safe space for learning and gathering?

The Solution

Team-based Engagement

I am still in the design phase for this project. I am designing a library program that encourages teens to explore their library and forge social connections by grouping them into teams.

The Research

More Than Just Books

I interviewed library users, administrative staff, and librarians to understand the value their public library provides.
I learned that the library is a lot of things to a lot of people.

“The library was the only place my mom let me go after school...I would come back and tell the librarians about the books I read.”
“The library was where I could explore worlds that didn’t feel otherwise accessible from my Catholic home in suburban Texas.”
“I’m a people person...I see the same faces every week [at Scrabble club].”
“I can work in the library all day without feeling unwelcome or like I need to buy something.”

The Insights

1. Infrastructure for Connection

Libraries are uniquely positioned to connect community members to each other and to resources especially during a pandemic, but are currently forced to do so without physical social infrastructure.

How might we transfer the value of a library’s shared space to a virtual world?

2. First Steps to Engagement

Engaging with library staff and the library’s collection are often the first steps users take toward a more trusting engagement and a sense of belonging in library spaces.

How might we invite users to engage directly with librarians and feel ownership over library resources?

The Process

Learning at Low Fidelity

Using simple storyboards and sketches, I evaluated early concepts with teens and teen librarians to understand the feasibility and desirability of my design directions.

The Features

Guided by Design Principles

Though my features are not locked in yet, my ideation has been guided by four key design principles.

1. Flexible

Adapts based on the users and their passions, because teens' interests are constantly changing.

2. Co-created

Builds trust, a sense of ownership, and excitement about library resources by inviting users into the creation of programs and curation of resources.

3. Social

Encourages connection, because libraries are uniquely equipped to bring a community's members together.

4. Community-centric

Brings the library, its resources, and librarians into the community because the physical library is not always easily accessible.

Future Work

Increasing Fidelity in Sprints

I will complete my thesis in a series of design sprints, each aimed at increasing the focus and fidelity of my solution. Check back here for updates as this project draws to a close!

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