In celebration of small & thoughtful innovation

In this second of our series of ‘celebration’ posts, we want to talk about innovation in libraries. But not that kind of press-release causing disruption that hogs all the attention. We are interested in innovation in a small but impactful sense. 

This is particularly pertinent when services are already under huge pressure and innovation can feel like a distant dream. 

We often focus on the latest technological improvements, but true innovation and user-driven services extend way beyond new shiny tech. In fact, some of the most impactful innovations for library users may not necessarily be the ones that make the loudest noise. They could be as simple as a minor tweak, an incremental change, or a thoughtful addition to the library’s offerings. 

These small but meaningful changes can make a significant difference to library users and to the overall success of the library. And that’s the most important part. We strive to have a deep understanding of our users, and we pride ourselves on being kind, helpful, and trustworthy.

Removing barriers 

Consider the significance of the fine-free library policy. This relatively minor adjustment has had a profound impact on making the library more inclusive and equitable. By eliminating the burden of fines, the library has become a more welcoming place for users who may face financial constraints. This policy shift has removed a significant barrier to access, enabling users to fully engage with the library’s resources and services without fear of financial penalty. 

This simple change can promote a more positive perception of the library and encourage users to engage with its resources and services more frequently.

The implementation of auto-renewal in the library’s integrated library system has similarly enhanced user satisfaction and peace of mind. Like the removal of library fines, auto-renewal can eliminate the negative association that some users may have with the library as a place of strict rules and stress. And all by changing a setting in a library ILS. 

It is thoughtful, people-centric touches like these that can have a big impact. Not just loud “disruptions” that shout their innovativeness from the top of the mountain. 

User driven, people-first

Technology can certainly open up avenues to innovation. But it must always be considered in the context of user needs, not novelty. 

Let’s take the humble library card. Many libraries are now offering new kinds of integrated cards. And virtual cards can expand the library’s reach significantly. 

In response to censorship and the growing number of book bans, Brooklyn Public Library has started offering free virtual library cards to young people, aged between 13 and 21, to make it easier for them to access the books that have been affected by the book bans. 

The quiet of the library has evolved thanks to user research and access to better space use data. Beyond the stereotypes and shushing of lore, many academic libraries now offer zoned spaces. Not just quiet. But the right amount of noise for different use cases.

Signage in University of York Library  showing zones for different levels of noise: Silent zone, quiet zone and Studious Buzz zone.
Signage in University of York Library – CC-BY-SA-4.0

Projects like Alterspace have taken this a step further. A collaboration between Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab and metaLab, Alterspace allows library visitors to create their own unique environments based on their specific needs. This project also demonstrates the vital role of partnership and collaboration in our people-first innovations. 

Incremental innovation

Small changes can continue to evolve over time and it can be easier to factor in any feedback from users. 

An example of this kind of incremental change is the next iteration of Oodi’s sound beacon. Oodi’s sound beacon was designed as part of the library’s entrance, to help people who are visually impaired orient themselves in their surroundings. They have now launched an improved version based on the feedback received from library users. 

Constraint-based innovation

Repurposing a room that was marked for demolition, the University of Amsterdam library used different UX methods to essentially codesign a space with the students using it.

During the closure of their Central Branch due to renovations, Fulton County Library System launched Library on the Lawn offering free internet access and computer resources in public spaces. This new service helped them connect with new users and it’s now open Monday to Wednesday as long as the weather is favourable. And while that might be a deal breaker in other climates, other new touchpoints can still emerge. 

And, in fact, Scotland (to take one, weather-challenged example) instead can offer kindness trees – indoor ones at that!

Sparking joy and celebrating small wins

Some of these changes are smaller than others but all had a positive impact on people who interact with the library. It’s important to regularly remind ourselves to take the time to recognise and celebrate small tweaks that might spark some joy and to appreciate the many new ways that libraries are having a positive impact on people and on their experiences of the library. 

We’d love to hear about your favourite innovation examples. Get in touch here or tweet us @artefactors