towards an atmosphere of ideas, experience & possibility
a building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for people to read, borrow, or refer to.
I believe in amplifying libraries. 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 othe
Accommodating a range of sounds and layouts we created the conditions for student culture to thrive.
- 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.
- Flexibility: Adding heavy-duty casters to the low bookshelves upstairs changed everything. We increased the number of books on the floor by having the bookshelves act as mobile partitions to define nooks and larger convening areas. And when we hosted events, or when community members wanted to host events, we'd push them all to the side.
Talking and collaboration happened naturally, we even played music. Folks felt welcome.
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:
- Safe - student safety
- Cheap - take risks with “small” money
- Reversible - we are “trying on” new ideas, not buying them
- Code-compliant - “spaces of public assembly” have unique fire code and other constraints that require continual collaboration with facilities experts
Sets and Set Pieces
t 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.
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?
(in 2016 the big hit was a gimbal, a gyro stabilized video camera rig)
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🔧 met 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
LABRARY, 92 Mt. Auburn St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA
21-day pop-up library experiment in ground floor retail in Harvard Square. Designed, built (14 days of construction pre-opening) 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 🏳️🌈
Reflections on why it worked:
- Always “in process” If it’s finished, it’s over.
- Old Tech + New Tech - Juxtapose the digital (“how does that thing work?”) with the mechanical (“ahh, I see how that works..”
- Widely Experiential Imagine you’re designing a mini City, neighborhoods and all.
- Furniture Scale - Large movable furniture is like fast and cheap architecture.
- Attention Prolongation Environment (APE) - Design to extend the act of applying the mind to something (see Stephen Kaplan)