Libraries and Rapid Prototyping

The design process has been around for ages and has been used by artists, scientists, to the world’s best-known innovators It includes 5 steps:


Designers learn about the target audience. The wants, needs, desires, beliefs and what is meaningful to them.
At this stage, designers define the problem that the service/product will solve in the context of the user.
Here is the step where designers brainstorm all the different ideas and solutions that could be created to solve the problem at hand. All ideas are shared, reviewed and helps in getting to the prototype
Here is where you develop models of what could become the final products and where you take the interesting ideas from the ideation step into solid prototypes that can be tested
Prototypes are given to potential users to experience with the goal of receiving feedback. The way you choose to test can be an exercise you connecting with your audience in a personable way.

Rapid prototyping is a quick, low-cost, high-quality development of prototypes that allows for testing a product, service, idea or experience before developing it into a final deliverable or outcome.

In the last decade, urban planners, artists and activists have used rapid prototyping to improve neighborhoods, gathering places and to make cities more human-centric. You have probably seen pop up stores, parking lots, and parking spaces turned into gathering places, abandoned lots turned into play areas, movies in the park, streets shut down for walking and bike riding, alleys turned to music venues. These are all part of a movement to build the city into the lifestyles of people.Libraries have used some of these prototype tactics with mobile services, pop-up libraries and even pop up librarians with great success.

Here are other ways and examples prototyping can help your library.

You have a library location that you want to renovate with the hopes of re-connecting with the surrounding community and attracting a younger audience. Before starting a fundraising campaign for 5 million, let’s prototype. Take a small area of your library and revamp it with some of the ideas, services, furniture, and activities you want in your renovated library. Invite community, potential donors and staff and see how they enjoy the experience and who you attract. You may find that a renovation is not needed or connect to new investors as well as the audiences.

Library systems tend to copy activities of other libraries. Doing what competitors do is a normal business practice, but innovation lies in customer-centred activities. Maybe 3-D printing activities work for Seattle, but does it work for your community? Create a weekend sampler. Give your community a taste of several activities and events over one weekend and during the activities, provide an interactive way to collect more information about events and activities from participants. Maybe a wall of post-its where customers can leave ideas and suggestions.

A large part of libraries’ budget goes to its collection, using forms, committees and bestseller lists to make the best choices of books, periodicals, music and databases that customers will use and possibly enjoy. Still too many times parts of your collection go un-used. Here is another opportunity to allow your customers to sample before you buy. Talk with potential database vendors and ask for a free week or two of services for customers. Have your committee pick several books to promote and have customers choose the top three while also promoting your selection form. Create playlists with your streaming sites and see what songs, ebooks and movies are the most popular.

The pattern here is prototyping and testing needs customers to be successful. This is one reason clients minimize or skip these steps. It can be challenging to engage customers, but the results can be invaluable; more support, higher awareness of your services by customers, more products and services that are customer-centered and a better use of your resources.