buildingways collaborate

reimagining libraries

towards an atmosphere of ideas, experience & possibility

li·brar·y
/ˈlīˌbrerē, ˈlīb(ə)rē/
noun: library
a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for people to read, borrow, or refer to.

I am a library amplifier. I draw on my design training to empower the creativity of administrators and patrons across ages so they may shape, and reshape, the libraries that serve them. This hands-on community process brings libraries to ⚡️life⚡️.

What follows is a selection of library innovation work while Library Director at Olin College, a founding member of Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab, an Artist in Residence at and a graduate student at the MIT Media Laboratory. As lives trend online, the mission and location of libraries (at the center of town and the center of campus), remains “evergreen” terrain for growth and experimentation.

Olin College Library

The Olin College Library went from a ghost town to the center of town in about a year and a half. By inviting students to shape the culture of the place, we invigorated student engagement with the collection, the space, and each other.

The secret to bringing space to life, in 00:34 seconds

Space Planning

We needed flexibility for the culture to emerge, two strategies stand out:

  1. Sound: We celebrated focused study by creating a new Quiet Reading Room. This space was always calm, clean and well used. The Quiet Reading Room freed up the rest of the library to be loud. Talking and collaboration happened naturally, we even played music. Folks felt welcome.
  1. Flexibility: Adding heavy-duty casters to the low bookshelves upstairs changed everything. We kept the same number of books on the floor, we just made them mobile to define nooks, partition the space, and push them all to the side for special events.

The Entrance 🖐🏽 Drag white dividing bar above for the Before/After

Surface Treatment

Colorful paint, removable vinyl sticker supergraphics, laminate to resurface tables, homosote bulletin boards - these skin deep changes transformed the space. Simple guide rails allowed us to act with relative autonomy:

  1. Safe - student safety
  2. Cheap - take risks with “small” money
  3. Reversible - we are “trying on” new ideas, not buying them
  4. C0de-compliant - “spaces of public assembly” have unique fire code and other constraints that require continual collaboration with facilities experts

The Team Rooms 🖐🏽 Drag white dividing bar above for the Before/After

A Collection of “Sets”

It was helpful to think of the library as a theater: the space as a stage, the programming as a long, slow performance. An evolving collection of low-fidelity yet suggestive sets supporting the “performance” of library programming were transformed the atmosphere. The details of the sets mattered, the available bowl of yarn and needles, a collection of operable and interactive antiques.

This Mac Classic boots up; I wish I had a photo of students cozying up to read in front of this cardboard fireplace - it happened a lot.
This Mac Classic boots up; I wish I had a photo of students cozying up to read in front of this cardboard fireplace - it happened a lot.

Student Engagement

Student engagement was the backbone of the library’s transformation.

In partnership with Engineering Professor Aaron Hoover we created OWL (Olin Workshop on the Library) Summer Design/Build program. For eight weeks we set seven students free to create the library (space) the community wanted.

Recognizing that building a new collection is an act of research and a set of decisions about what to buy is something anybody can understand. Same with the joy of spending somebody else’s money. This is how we began our media tools collection.

What if this (B&H Catalog) was the Library Catalog, what would you borrow?
What if this (B&H Catalog) was the Library Catalog, what would you borrow?

Hacking the Library

Students were invited to shape the technologies of the library as much as its spaces. In collaboration with Visiting Professor of Computer Scientist Oliver Steele, we created and co-ran the Hacking the Library🔧 for two semesters.

Hacking the Library🔧 meet in the lower level of the library, amidst our tool collection.
Hacking the Library🔧 meet in the lower level of the library, amidst our tool collection.

Faculty Retreats & Cookie Swaps Belong in Libraries

Producing faculty retreats became a library tradition (thanks to the castors on the stacks), same with Holiday Happenings and the Community-wide Cookie Swaps.

Harvard Library Innovation Lab

I was brought on to help found the new Library Innovation Lab at the Harvard Law School Library. We were able to do a lot.

Library Test Kitchen

With the support of Prof. Jeffrey Schnapp, I created, and co-ran the Library Test Kitchen for three semesters in Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. From the Inflatable Reading Room to the The Wi-Fi Cold Spot, student work was brilliant.

Students presenting Jot!: the digital bookmark at mid-review presentations
Students presenting Jot!: the digital bookmark at mid-review presentations

LABRARY

LABRARY, 92 Mt. Auburn St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA
LABRARY, 92 Mt. Auburn St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA

A 21-day pop-up library experiment in ground floor retail in Harvard Square. Designed, built and operated by 16 folks in the Library Test Kitchen Seminar, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Invited to SXSW interactive, we partnered with the Austin Library Foundation who gave us a prime spot outside the convention center to pop up, ✊🏾 in the spirit of libraries LABRARY was free and open to all 🏳️‍🌈 
Invited to SXSW interactive, we partnered with the Austin Library Foundation who gave us a prime spot outside the convention center to pop up, ✊🏾 in the spirit of libraries LABRARY was free and open to all 🏳️‍🌈

Relfections on why it worked:

  1. Always “in process” - If it’s finished, it’s over.
  2. Old Tech + New Tech - Juxtapose the digital (“how does that thing work?”) with the mechanical (“ahh, I see how that works..”
  3. Widely Experiential - Imagine you’re designing a mini City, neighborhoods and all.
  4. Furniture Scale  - Large movable furniture is like fast and cheap architecture.
  5. Attention Prolongation Environment (APE) - Design to extend the act of applying the mind to something (see Stephen Kaplan)

StackLife

A fully operational library catalog (or OPAC). Visualization of book size and anonymized lending history to reveal the “life” of the collection.

Library License

This was policy design to address the ocean of books languishing in copyright. Once a book no longer has buyers, Library License aimed to make one free online copy available to every library that wants one. The License was a legally binding rider for book contracts drafted by lawyers from Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. It went surprisingly far, only to be deemed too
“incremental” by the leadership of Creative Commons.

Early Library Software

StackView

StackView was the project I did as an Artist-in-Residence at ED Lab, Teachers College Library, Columbia. This lead to my position at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab.

The pitch video:

Beat Browser

While at the MIT Media Lab I designed this audio discovery tool to increase the serendipity of bumping into music. (I got help coding it by Bob Burkhardt!). I think it could work quite well for podcasts…