How to Create a Magnetic Library, Part 1
The Magnetic Library
As libraries evolve, so does library design. As recently as the late 1990’s, libraries were more or less introverted (e.g., staff waiting to be asked for help and buildings with few windows, to keep focus inside). Slowly, libraries started to become extroverted (e.g., smaller service desks, proactive customer service, and buildings opening up visually to their surroundings). The next step in that evolution is for libraries to become magnetic. That is, the library should become a sought-out destination that the community feels compelled to visit. The library will have customers no matter its condition. But by providing a great experience through design, libraries can become a central part of more peoples’ lives and the communities they serve.
Customization has increased in recent years. Consumers have the ability to define their own experience in nearly every aspect of their lives. It started on a small scale, with being able to supersize french fries or choose the softness of a bed’s mattress. The ability to customize has morphed into something ubiquitous. The focus has shifted from mass production to mass customization. Personal choice is available for all, not just the rich—for everything from the cup of coffee we drink and suits we wear to the bicycles we ride and way we have news formatted and delivered. We have options in the kind of schooling our children receive, with charter schools more prevalent than ever before and continuing to increase in number. We can customize our higher education experience as well, through greater choice in institutions online and on campus, as well as in the curricular path within a major. We can customize just about anything. This ability to define and choose our experiences has huge implications on customers’ expectations for both library service and design.
In addition to all this choice, customers are inundated with design-related media and resources through television and the Internet. Websites such as pinterest.com, dwell.com, and designsponge.com expose consumers to a wider range of style than was possible just ten years ago without travel. Big-box retailers are upping the design consciousness by collaborating with well-known designers and tastemakers in their product lines. Customers are more sophisticated and design-savvy than ever before. They demand high-quality experiences everywhere they go, including the library. The term “user experience” has permeated our culture. Retailers, web designers, software developers, product designers, manufacturers, and architects all talk about user experience. This evolution doesn’t mean libraries have to become theme parks—far from it. It means paying attention to a few basics about human nature.
It is common to compare libraries to retail because retailers understand something that libraries can learn from: emotions and experience matter.
“Humans are not either thinking machines or feeling machines but rather feeling machines that think.”
—Antonio Damasio, in Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain
Neuroscientists such as Antonio Damasio remind us of the importance of recognizing the role emotion plays in our decisions. Where we choose to spend our resources (i.e., our money and time) is personal. A recent University of Texas study by Raj Raghunathan and Szu-Chi Huang suggests that we tend to base our decisions first on emotion (our gut) and then try to back that gut response with facts and logic. This pattern has been found to apply to dating, religion, politics, and hiring, among other activities. So what does it mean for the library that wants to be magnetic?
Being magnetic means appealing to customers’ emotions and creating a narrative that they can identify with. For a library, this identification means different things to different people. Consider raising money for a project and the importance of crafting various customer archetypes to target the message to. How one speaks of the library’s relevance to the senior looking for the morning’s print newspaper will likely be different from the message of relevance for a teenager. Libraries provide lifelong learning, but the kind of learning is different for each person who sets foot through the door.
Exploring more specifically how to create a magnetic library, I will focus on three aspects in my subsequent posts: