participatory design in libraries

While many academic libraries are constructing learning commons, the implementation varies from place to place depending on the needs of the library users (Somerville and Collins 803). It is not enough to decide to build a learning commons and expect to find a blueprint that will suit all libraries: one size does not fit all. How best to determine what’s right for a particular institution? One important strategy is to involve library users early on in the project. This approach is called participatory design.

Nancy Fried Foster tells us that

Participatory design is an approach to building spaces, services, and tools where the people who will use those things participate centrally in coming up with concepts and then designing the actual products.
(“Participatory Design” 1)

Sens identifies participatory design as another trend in library design. He describes Georgia Tech’s recent renovation, during which “‘student affinity focus groups’ helped solidify a list of desired characteristics that informed every space, ranging from the café to the theater space. As a result, the new Georgia Tech library integrated current student needs with a vision for the future” (“12 Major Trends”).

Planning committees that consult library users early in the process can ensure that the new space is valuable to its patrons. Such consultation also changes how librarians think about users, bringing their needs to the foreground. And finally, this relationship fosters a cycle of continuous improvement (Somerville and Collins 803). Student input should not begin and end with the initial plans; rather, the principles of participatory design encourage continued dialog so the space continues to be relevant to library users as their needs evolve.


Works Cited
Foster, Nancy F. “Introduction.” Participatory Design in Academic Libraries: Methods, Findings, and Implementations. Council on Library and Information Resources, Wash., DC. (2012): 1-3. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.

Foster, Nancy F. and Sania Battalova. “Participatory Design: EIFL Webinar.” 26 Apr. 2012. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.

Sens, Thomas. “12 Major Trends in Library Design.” Building Design & Construction, 50.12 (2009): 38-42. ProQuest. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.

Somerville, Mary M. and Lydia Collins. “Collaborative Design: a Learner-Centered Library Planning Approach.” Electronic Library 26.6 (2008): 803–820. Emerald Publishing. Web. 7 Nov. 2012.


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