Library Machine (n.) – A mechanically or electronically operated device for performing a library function.*
*where library function is broadly defined
About Library Test Kitchen
We’re an Advanced Seminar in the Harvard Graduate School of Design. We have a working budget, a defined client, and a desire to play a role in the shaping of library space and programming. And if all goes according to plan, the machines on display and others will be packed into a Sprinter van and driven down to SXSW Interactive this March to catalyze conversation.
Over the past few months, we’ve been talking with Lynn Public Library about their new Teen Learning Lab. Lynn Public Library was awarded one of the IMLS / MacArthur Foundation’s Learning Labs in Libraries and Museums grants so they’re really expanding their program and vision.
The project is driven by a teen advisory committee; they’ve been meeting regularly to figure out what the new teen space should be, working from a blank slate, and collaboratively starting to conceptualize the space. The teen-driven nature of the design process is part of what makes it such an exciting and unique project. Along with graphic designer and LTK-alum Bri Patawaran, we visited one of their meetings a couple of weeks ago to lead a workshop on identity and branding.
To start making the new space a reality, first we had to know what it was. It needed a look and feel that was consistent, recognizable and legible. The teens had already come up with the beginnings of an identity for their space; they had a name for it, QUARANTEEN. With Bri leading the way, we started an in-depth exploration of who and what Quaranteen was.
If Quaranteen were a person…
…what would their favorite movie be?
…would they be loud or quiet?
…what would their super power be?
Bri had the idea for binary oppositions, which was great, but what made it so successful was adding the continuum bar. In the poster above, you can see the activity in action. Youthful–Mature, Studious–Playful, Quiet–Loud, the group went down the list and discussed where Quaranteen fit.
By the end of the workshop we got to know Quaranteen as a person and as a space, and could begin imagining how to design for them. The teens came up with pages of potential logos and started to talk fonts and colors. Quaranteen was starting to go from an idea to something concrete.
We’ll be meeting up with the Lynn crew more over the next few months. In the meantime, you can download Bri’s identity and branding presentation.
We’ve been talking a lot this semester about making an argument with a few choice images, and particularly using animated gifs as an exercise in this. This little gif makes the argument against cars in an incredibly simple and compelling way. It’s also a fine example of the value of a well-staged photo.
Last Wednesday, LTK took a trip to Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown. We got a tour, and saw the Secondary Library with the librarian. (The Secondary Library serves Perkins students; Perkins is also home to the Braille and Talking Book Library, which serves Massachusetts residents of any age who are unable to read traditional print materials due to a visual or physical disability.)
Tactile globe in Perkins’ museum
Kit for learning how to read music
Next ,we went to the Assistive Device Center, where Molly Campbell showed us around. The Assistive Device Center is a largely volunteer-run workshop that creates customized furniture, tools, games, and materials for Perkins students. The ADC primarily uses tri-wall cardboard, lining the edges with paper tape and painting it, and then painting and decorating based on kids’ preferences. Molly recruited us to help build a chair for a Perkins toddler.
The ADC are experts at quick, cheap, designs that are customized to users’ specific needs and preferences. The chair we worked on was based on a standard ADC design, with select measurements tailored to the child who will be using it. The furniture is also measured to accommodate the child as they age and grow as much as possible.
Jeff demos the track outside, equipped with rope guides.
I am only two months older than the World Wide Web, or the internet as we know it today. Arguably, I straddle the line between digital native and digital immigrant, quick to Google search a question, but woefully resistant to reading an e-book. For me, a steadfast believer in the physicality of books and spaces we call libraries, This Book is Overdue! was a fascinating portrait of the future of information storage.
From Deadwood, South Dakota, where their library exists both physically in Deadwood and virtually in Second Life, to the New York Public Library, a leader in digitizing collections, Marilyn Johnson takes you on a whirlwind tour of librarians across America, giving you a taste of how innovative (and eccentric!) people in this profession can be.
There are librarians fighting for our right to privacy (did you know there are library confidentiality laws in 48 states?) and librarians cataloguing everything, whether it’s a zine or every page of the internet (check out the Wayback Machine if you haven’t yet). There are even blogging librarians reporting on poop in the stacks (the Happy Villain: “people have left poop in the most unbelievable places. Mostly down in the youth department, but we have found what I have dubbed ‘rogue turds’ all over the library. What amazes me is that other librarians e-mail me routinely and say they too find them and are somewhat comforted to know that it’s not just their patrons doing this, but everyone’s…”).
There are also librarians participating in precision-drill competitions, using booktrucks as props:
“As a breed, librarians tend to share a sense of humor that is quirky, sardonic, and full of wordplay, but nothing captures their gift for self-mockery quite as vividly as the book-cart drills, held at various state conferences and culminating each year in a contest at the American Library Association’s summer convention…The Austin team wore Rosie the Riveter outfits, pedal pushers and darling embroidered denim shirts, with knotted bandannas on the tops of their heads, and moved like the June Taylor Dancers. Their choreography, to Bette Midler’s rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” looked practically professional: a dozen attractive, foot-tapping, finger-snapping librarians, sending a dozen book carts marked “READING IS RIVETING” whizzing across the floor in coordinated waves.”
If you thought that the end of libraries was coming soon, you are sorely mistaken; according to Johnson, librarians are here to help us with “information sickness,” with the overwhelming volume of information that has suddenly become accessible to anyone with an internet connection. And even if you’re convinced that technology is the way of the future, what these librarians are up to just might surprise you.
Come to class ready to present your demo. You will be standing up in front of a subset of the class and delivering your mid-review presentation. You will get 5 minutes. You'll get a minute or two to set the scene as well – describe what props will be out, what supporting visuals – come the 23rd. After your presentation, the group provides feedback, clarification, suggestions, etc.
“The demo” (def.- a demonstration of the capabilities of something) is a highly constructed, practiced, and performed tour through the project and concept. A successful demo answers basic questions (what, why, how) and stimulates discussion from the audience and reviewers.
Come the 23rd, while we'll each be demo-ing projects that are onlypart built/functional, they should tell the whole story of the project. It's your whole vision that's going to help guide the mid-review discussion in constructive directions.
The optimal demo:
(demo is used somewhat interchangeably to refer to the thing and the performance — demonstration — of the thing)
Unpacks the relationship to the library (Why is it a Library Machine?) - is your project inspired by library behavior? Is it a new argument about where libraries should be heading? How should the audience understand your project as a library machine.
Name/Tagline - What is the name and concise, repeatable phrase that captures your project. If you want your idea to travel there's gotta be a handle that's easy to grab onto
Origin Story/Move — what was the A-ha observation, sentiment, connection, original gesture or curiosity that took you down this path (this can add a grounding, personal dimension to your story)
Interactive — create a demo reviewers can play with.
Speaks for itself – what you choose to make is crucial. Define the core move, the magic in your project. How can that be captured and prototyped by Mid-Review? Supporting materials, prototypes and posters should effectively communicate the project with very, very few words.
3-4 minutes long – attention spans are short, presentations that go over 5 minutes in mid-review will be cut off to leave room for jury response
voice/vibe – give your demo character. Give it a look, a personality. Through your presentation style, choice of supporting materials, branding, color palette, packaging — these are crucial to building desire (I want one of those!) and believability (this thing is real!)
Demonstrate how it'd be used and why it's useful - Library Machines are designed to exist in the world — demonstrate how it'd will be used and why it's useful
We heard a couple times about personalization & carrels. This signaled “life” much more than empty desks and carrels, but these personalized spaces were less inviting parking spots for the passing user. Adding character also makes engagement harder.
“Sign of Life”
This thread ran through a lot of the visits. One clear exception the “nightlife” Joanna found at Lamont. Can you design life into a space. Wake it up?
The voice of the library, in signage and rules, was a bit off-putting. Strategies for libraries to communicate better with their patrons is a really important area, ready for some fresh thinking.
Part II we discussed a couple of “Library Machines”.
The two machines that elicited the best response:
Agostino Ramelli's Bookwheel from late 1500's got folks talking.
Rachel made an interesting comparison was made to the Roladex, she and Alexandra found in Boston Public Library
Josh imagined it as a sort of massive, web browser. Tabbed browsing by gross-motor cranking of the wheel
The Little Free Library
This was interesting. Looking at the images of the LFL's, they're generally folksy and homey. This is what happens when LFL meet's design:
1. Project pitch. Your idea in one (or two) sentences. What's the driving question / problem / observation behind your machine? Don't spend much time on this; it's just a place to start from and will change as you start making.
2. Exploration. Make a machine that illustrates your idea on a small scale. It can (and should!) be rough and lo-tech. But it must be built (or coded) and dosomething.
Your machines are first iterations of an idea. Not any kind of a commitment to a final project, a first step.
We'll have an informal science fair-type expo next week to show off our machines and revise our project ideas.
Have fun making something. And our doors are open for bouncing ideas off of.