The Role of Service Design in Reimagining Libraries

Summary: Service Design plays a central role in reimagining libraries as community hubs. Libraries are pivotal to their communities, but their role is changing in the 21st century. COVID-19 accelerated the changes in space utilization and engagement, showing the importance of a holistic Service Design approach to helping libraries better serve communities, particularly underrepresented community needs.

Why Service Design is Essential for Modern Libraries

Libraries are evolving. They are no longer just about books but have become dynamic spaces for community engagement and digital learning. Implementing effective service design is crucial for libraries to remain relevant and meet the ever-changing needs of their communities.

Service Design in libraries is crucial for adapting to changing community needs. It focuses on improving the experience of broader community residents, increasing engagement, and ensuring equitable resource access. Effective service design helps libraries transition from traditional spaces to dynamic hubs, offering various services and access points, ultimately driving higher footfall and greater user satisfaction, emotional safety, and belonging.

The Business Case for Service Design in Libraries

Service design focuses on creating user-centered services that are efficient and enjoyable. For libraries, this approach can lead to enhanced user satisfaction, increased use of resources, and optimized use of resources and service spaces. By understanding the user journey, libraries can strategically allocate their budgets to areas with the highest return on engagement and satisfaction.

How Libraries Are Evolving Post-COVID

The pandemic has significantly reshaped library usage. Increased demand for flexible access to information and resources prompts libraries to rethink service delivery.

“While we librarians generally are not responsible for the emotional safety of our users, we can control elements of physical safety by making changes to physical spaces, like interiors and exteriors, as well as closely examining our policies, procedures, and processes for their potential to re-traumatize users” Source: Tolley, R. (2020). A Trauma-Informed Approach to Library Services. ALA Editions.

Service Design allows libraries to manage these changes and cater to evolving user preferences efficiently. Here are specific ways libraries are transforming:

  1. Flexible Spaces and Services As physical visits fluctuated during the pandemic, libraries adapted by offering more than just lending books. They have reconfigured interiors to create multifunctional areas that accommodate a range of activities—from workshops and lectures to individual study and leisure reading.
  2. Enhanced Digital Access Post-COVID, libraries have ramped up their digital services, providing more e-books, online archives, virtual resources, and online or in-person events. Service Design helps optimize these digital resources for convenience and ease of use, ensuring all community members can access resources remotely. Equity-led access is of particular priority, and here, an Inclusive Design approach ensures underrepresented community needs are centered on service accessibility.
  3. Community Touchpoints Recognizing that not everyone can or chooses to visit the library in person, many have introduced innovative solutions like external book drop and pick-up spots, as well as bookmobile services that travel to underserved areas. These initiatives can ensure continuous access to library resources, making them more integral to the community. In seeing libraries as a provider of decentralized community resources, libraries can use areas that work, such as the bookmobile, as a launchpad for new services.

Examples of Service Design Impact in Libraries

Several libraries worldwide have undergone transformations that showcase the power of service design. The three most well-known examples include:

  1. Harvard Library, USA: Harvard Library undertook a significant transformation with its service design by enhancing its digital interfaces and user services. They implemented an online reservation system for physical spaces and improved digital access to their vast collections, catering to the needs of the academic community not just locally but globally. This shift preserved access to crucial academic resources during the pandemic and broadened its reach beyond traditional geographical limitations.
  2. Seattle Public Library, USA: Building on a monumental redesign of its service spaces and overall building, Seattle Public Library focused on integrating technology with traditional library services to create a hybrid service delivery model. They introduced automated materials handling and a redesigned website that offers intuitive navigation and enhanced digital services. These improvements made the library’s resources more accessible, especially important during times when physical access was limited. Furthermore, they expanded their community programming to include more online workshops and virtual events, significantly increasing their engagement with the community.
  3. Helsinki Central Library Oodi, Finland: Oodi is renowned for its flexible design and extensive community-driven services. Building on pre-pandemic Service Design master planning, the library post-COVID emphasized adaptable spaces that can easily be reconfigured based on current needs, from quiet reading areas to active event, quiet, and maker spaces (3D printing, sewing machines, AI, VR, etc.), showing a responsive understanding of dynamic community requirements.
More examples of Service Design used in Libraries include:

4. Copenhagen Central Library, Denmark: The Copenhagen Central Library introduced new service designs focusing on community needs. They reorganized the layout to include flexible spaces for events and workshops, integrated technology for digital access, and improved wayfinding. This makeover resulted in a 30% increase in visitor numbers and higher participation in library-hosted events.

5. Chicago Public Library, USA: Chicago Public Library’s revamp involved extensive community feedback to redesign its services. By enhancing its digital platform, integrating self-service kiosks, and redesigning children’s areas to be more interactive, the library boosted its membership and significantly increased daily visits.

6. National Library of Singapore: The National Library of Singapore focused on inclusivity and accessibility in its service redesign. It implemented user-friendly interfaces for its digital catalogs and physical adjustments for better accessibility. These changes improved user engagement, especially among seniors and differently-abled patrons, demonstrating a strong community commitment.

7. San Francisco Public Library, USA: Post-pandemic, this library expanded its SFPL To Go service, a contact-free pickup system. They redesigned entry points and circulation areas to streamline the process, significantly increasing user engagement and maintaining service continuity during restrictions.

8. Toronto Public Library, Canada: Toronto’s library system has enhanced its outreach through mobile library services and pop-up libraries in parks, responding to the community’s need for accessible, safe outdoor activities and learning opportunities during the pandemic.

The value Service Design adds to Library Masterplan efforts

Crucially, Service Design helps libraries assess user and employee experiences and the broader ecosystem (government, businesses, universities). Focusing on historically marginalized groups, including users with disabilities, as well as patron and non-patron needs, libraries can:

  • Boost Engagement: Libraries that tailor their services to meet specific community needs see higher engagement and repeat visits. Furthermore, adapting services and spaces (in and beyond the physical building) can result in ‘inclusion innovation.’ This response to underrepresented community needs encourages more frequent and varied use of library resources.
  • Improve Accessibility: Addressing barriers to access, which are informational, physical, and social, is critical. Expanding touchpoints beyond traditional 20th-century definitions of library services ensures that more community members can benefit from library services.
  • Enhance User Experience: By understanding user behaviors, libraries can allocate resources more effectively, reducing waste and improving service delivery. Thoughtful design changes make libraries more inviting and easier to navigate, enriching the overall user experience.

Key Insights

Service design improves the overall patron, non-patron, and employee delivery experience, making libraries more intuitive, inviting, and accessible. It’s about deeply understanding library users’ needs and crafting services that enhance their touchpoints with libraries.

See How to Conduct Touchpoing Mapping

Using service design, libraries can meet evolving community needs and stay relevant. This will ensure they remain relevant and valued for generations to come. Implementing these strategies is not just an adaptation; it’s an evolution toward a more inclusive and accessible future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.




No Tags associated with this Post

Recent Posts

Scroll to top

Get a quote or discuss your project

Tell us about your project

Arrange a 30 min call

Project in mind?


Fight for the rights of your users. We'll show you how.

Read more articles like this for exclusive insights into the best ways to approach UX and Service Design challenges. Find out when events occur first. Privacy protected, no exceptions.

Subscribing indicates your consent to our Privacy Policy

Should we add you to our email list?

Privacy protected-You can unsubscribe at any time.

Download the Better UX kit