It’s a Party: A Metaphoric Observation Exercise with Staff

Library work is fun.

In my first year as a professional in the library field, I was working at Walnut Public Library in Southern California. We were a busy library. Whenever I was at the reference desk I realized that a good librarian is like a good party hostess: we make sure everyone feels welcome, that they are having a good time, and that they have what they need. This idea stayed with me and continues to help me frame work as a librarian today.

Rather than challenging the staff with a simple observation process, I was able to carry this party/hostess idea into a fun design thinking exercise with my library team at Sofia University Library.  Taking this idea of the library as a party was not a big leap and it suited our culture.  My team liked to have a good time and support the campus community. We frequently had impromptu or planned gatherings for pizza or someone’s going away party. My team was also resourceful: creative problem-solving was an integral part of our daily work.

The challenge I set up for them was simple and provocative: If we embrace the idea that the library is a party, what do we see that we want to change or improve?

We set up a time to meet and talk about what it takes to have a good party: a pleasant environment, places for everyone to feel comfortable, welcoming staff, and a variety of enjoyable experiences. All of it went onto a whiteboard. We took pictures of the board to use for future reference.

Then we took our clipboards into the library and walked around. I asked the team to write down what they noticed that might need some work. Staff walked around and wrote down what they saw or did not see. We gathered all of our notes and I transferred them into one big document.  Later, we would take action on those observations. We would update some of our signage and make small changes that contributed to a welcoming environment. Most of all, we now had an interesting metaphor for our workplace.  We had a creative viewpoint that we could return to again and again. Our library is a place for enjoyment and we had a critically important role in nurturing the patron experience. We were also free, since we had stepped away from the “library is just a library” attitude and actively played with one metaphor, to be aware of other metaphors for our work. There are an infinite variety and you don’t have to embrace just one.

Working with a metaphor in a design process is a good technique! Tina Seelig mentions it in her book inGenius. Metaphors help deconstruct your thinking and create new possibilities.

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