Reimagining library spaces – a workshop on creating engaging community spaces

As part of HotHouse programme, we recently ran a collaborative workshop at Deptford Library on reimagining library spaces using digital technologies.

The aim of the workshop was to introduce different technologies and demonstrate how they can help provide new ways for people and communities to engage with libraries and other community spaces creatively.


Deptford Lounge Workshop

Participants got a chance to try out some emerging technologies (3D printing, physical computing, electronics, augmented reality and proximity technologies) and were able to start working on ideas for applying this to their own work.

We always make a point to design workshops that are both participatory and practical. We know that no two libraries are alike and so it’s important that attendees can connect the workshop content to their own work.

We design demos that we hope inspire people to start thinking about how they might use these tools to improve access and delivery of the services at their own workplace.

Creative learning spaces in libraries

The first part of the workshop focused on the growing role of creative learning spaces in libraries and the influence of the maker movement. Learning and knowledge-sharing spaces in libraries are nothing new but the tools and approaches for these have shifted significantly in recent years to be more collaborative and active.

For those new to making and the maker movement, we gave an intro into how the maker movement developed, the ethos of the maker movement and the impact this has had on libraries.

Everyone got a chance to try out some different maker technologies via the Makercart, including 3D printing, Ozobots, Makey Makey and littleBits.

Proximity and AR technologies

After this, we moved on to talking about some recent developments in proximity and mobile technologies and how these can provide opportunities for new approaches and services in libraries.

Touch sensors and audio demo

We set up the room with different displays to demonstrate some of these potential uses, including Augmented Reality (AR), touch sensors with audio and a microcontroller, physical web beacons, NFC tags and more.

Augmented reality is the combining of digital information with real-world views using a mobile device or other application.

Google Translate is a good example of Augmented Reality that provides a real-time translation of any text document using the camera on your phone or tablet.

We also demonstrated how you can set up touch interfaces that play audio, an accessible and engaging alternative to static, text-based displays. Beacons have been around in one form or another for a few years now but they’re gaining more support and becoming a strong option for providing location-specific content to users.

Eddystone is an open format for Bluetooth Low Energy beacons that was developed by Google. These beacons are being increasingly used in museums but haven’t had as big an impact on the library and gallery worlds yet.

The Physical Web is an interesting development that has a lot of potential for libraries and other cultural and community spaces to deliver just-in-time content to visitors without necessarily needing to download a specific app first.

Near Field Communication (NFC) tags, though hampered by lack of iOS support, are also an affordable way of providing content directly to users without unnecessary barriers. NFC tags, like QR tags, also support network data so they can be a great tool for sharing WiFi details with users (though rolling out frictionless and painless wifi connectivity is still an uphill battle for many libraries).

Designing library spaces for your users

While there are lots of inspiring examples out there of innovative projects by different libraries, your mileage will definitely vary (YMWDV?).

Some of the examples from around the library world that we discussed included community oral history projects, artist residencies, repair cafes and reminiscence sessions.

There was a lot of discussion during this part of the workshop about how these different technologies might be implemented in libraries to provide more interactivity and improve access to information and collections.

It’s important to note that the technology within this workshop (and more generally) is a tool, not a solution in itself.

Carlos presented at the workshop

The workshop was about user experience and how it can be improved in ways that ensure library users get access to the information and support they need when they need it. This includes removing unnecessary barriers and providing brand new ways for people to engage with library (or museum, archive, gallery) collections.

After giving an overview of design thinking approaches, it was time for participants to start brainstorming ideas that they’d like to implement in their own work.

Innovating in difficult times

There was an interesting discussion about what this sort of innovation-focus means in times of short-sighted budget cuts as well as what emerging technologies mean for the experiences of library users on low incomes or with low digital literacy.

WiFi hotspot lending is an interesting example of how some libraries are helping provide equity of access using digital technologies.

We also talked about the opportunities presented by Open Data Hackdays and what some different libraries (Newcastle Libraries, for example) have done in this area.

A lot of the demos we developed for the workshop use low cost and open technologies and this is important part of ensuring that innovation remains both accessible in difficult times as well as being something that libraries are able to control and manage themselves.

Interested in working with us, get in touch

If you’re interested in hosting a workshop to help your staff use emerging technologies to delivery better user experiences and reimagine spaces, get in touch with us.