Chicago Public Library (CPL) caters for a wide range of people across the city. This creates a wide spectrum of needs that explains why it is a custodian of an extensive digital and physical collection.
The digital divide is huge. The Chicago Public Library has been lending out hotspots that provide 24/7 internet access for three weeks. This introduces its patrons to the concept of having the internet at home ... without making a financial commitment. The library workers with whom I spent time hope that this entices people to install it in their homes on a permanent basis.
As the Director of Engagement and Special Projects explained, ‘digital access is increasing but circulation of books is not decreasing, it’s actually increasing’. ‘The pressure to keep the book is enormous – people who are “hard core” users still want best sellers, and they want them now’. CPL patrons want to borrow the latest publication by their favourite author. They also want to be able to read the book online; they not only expect the library collection to be up-to-date, but they expect the library to make it available in physical and digital form.
CPL patrons want online and physical books; librarians can’t really predict when patrons will what one rather than the other. Librarians sometimes use government data to anticipate the needs of their patrons. The City of Chicago now provides access to its data via a portal to encourage innovation and development across its community. The site hosts over 200 datasets about government departments, services, facilities, and performance. But, the data does not always help library staff resolve why people use the library. What does the data actually mean? It’s important to supplement the data with feedback from the users through design-thinking methods.
More recently, library staff and CPL have been using what is known as ‘human-centred design’ to work through new initiatives with their patrons, and implement these initiatives on a case-by-case basis.
CPL worked with IDEO, funded by the Gates Foundation, to devise what has become known as the ‘library tool kit’. As Diane explained, IDEO did not realise that librarians consider ‘research’ to be about books, so we developed this tool-kit to introduce librarians to a new kind of research – one that does not involve research papers. Instead, the tool-kit provides a methodology for working with patrons to identify opportunities for the development of services and spaces, and potential solutions to these ‘gaps’. For example: CPL is seeking to attract millenials. it is understanding how games can be introduced to engage adult audiences at its public libraries. As one librarian explained:
"Our project is seeking to understand how game literacy can be leveraged into other educational processes while understanding that adults continue to learn through play, much like children and teens have long been encouraged to do".
Once a year, it holds a mini-con event called 'International Games Day', featuring both board games and video games. it has a special interest in inviting local developers to introduce its games to an audience, as well as provide expertise on how they might be able to design a game. It has local indie game developers involved as well to make the day more interesting to adults. The event is designed for adults so the vast majority of the participants are millennials. However, the event did appeal to people of all ages, which suggests that the new service would resonate with its patrons.
The library staff particularly like the ethos of collaborative research. Human-centred design is a way of getting everyone involved – from the clerk to the commissioner – which spreads the feeling of ownership of the libraries services and spaces. Everyone becomes the owner of a new initiative – and they can see it grow and develop. What learning for UK libraries?