My interest in design thinking began when I took the Hyperlinked Library MOOC in Fall 2013, although I only completed half the modules. The following summer, I took User Experience as an independent course through San José State’s iSchool Open Classes. If you’ve happened to poke around in my blog (it’s really to a means to keep track of what I read, conferences, projects, etc.), you’ll find that I’ve written about my interest in learning and instructional design. I’m still contemplating a second Masters or certificate. My current job is focused on instruction, which includes the design of learning objects to aid the research and instruction process. I’d like some more formal learning and training.
I finally had the opportunity to watch the May 12, 2016, recording of the Blended Librarians Online Community webinar “From ‘Design Thinking’ to ‘Design Knowing’: Re-conceptualizing Librarianship as a Design Discipline.” Rachel Ivy Clarke recently earned a Ph.D. at the University of Washington Information School; her research centers on this topic, and you can follow her @archivy, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her website at archivy.net. The webinar stems from a letter Steven Bell wrote in response to an August 2015 report called “Re-envisioning the MLS: Findings, Issues, and Considerations.” Clarke reached out to Bell after reading his letter, which sparked her interest in the subject of approaching librarianship from a design perspective. Steven Bell has also previously written on this topic in his November 2014 Library Journal post “MLD: Masters in Library Design, Not Science.”
Here is the webinar description:
Although librarianship is often traditionally framed as a science, librarians have always been designers: creators of tools and services ( everything from indexes to curricula to ) that connect people with information. Librarians have never really explicitly conceptualized their work as design work or viewed themselves as designers. Recent years have seen an upsurge of interest in applying “design thinking” to library work, but librarianship also aligns with “design knowing”—foundations of knowledge in design that differentiate it from science. (2016)
This was a really great webinar to explore both how design is a form of knowledge different from the sciences and humanities and the ways in which librarianship is a design discipline. It’s a compelling argument, and I am impressed with Clarke’s work.
Here are my notes with the examples Clarke used in the webinar.
“Designerly Ways of Knowing”
Design is concerned with the artificial world–making things in order to solve problems. Nigel Cross, a design scholar, developed “designerly ways of knowing” that span across different design fields. Clarke argues that these also span librarianship. She has pinpointed three “designerly ways of knowing,” which include creation of problem solutions, generation of knowledge through making, and design evaluation methods.
1. Creation of Wicked Problem Solutions
Designerly ways of knowing include the of creation artifacts, or things, to solve “wicked” problems; the way we frame these kinds of problems makes a significant impact on how the problems are solved. In librarianship, we create artifacts to solve information problems, including tangible items, such as indexes and pathfinders, or digital items, such as an online catalog or LibGuides; conceptual systems, such as the Library of Congress Classification and Dewey Decimal Classification systems; and events, such as story times, or services, such as instructional curriculum.
Wicked problems are unique problems in that whatever context they are in, they can’t be solved the same way in a different context. They are interconnected, challenging problems without a single answer and aren’t solved through a traditional scientific approach; solutions, instead, are ranked as either better or worse and will vary depending on what aspect of the problem is being addressed. For example, solutions like a library catalog will vary depending on what is seen as the main problem–is it more to help people access materials, for inventory control, or to introduce people to diverse materials? Wicked problems also have many stakeholders with different perspectives, like librarians, administrators, and patrons. Are classification systems designed to help librarians, patrons, or both librarians and patrons?
2. Generation of Knowledge through Making: Iteration, Reflection, and Repertoire
We generate knowledge through the making processes, which include iteration, reflection, and drawing on a repertoire of knowledge. The process of creating artifacts is as important as the results; the design cycle supports the idea of iteration. Clarke indicates that the design process is gaining traction in librarianship, and I find that she is correct. Check out Design Thinking for Educators and Design Thinking for Libraries. Clarke remarks, however, that reflection does not seem to be as strongly represented in design thinking as it relates to librarianship. She suggest that we are reflecting all the time without actually talking about it and that we might not recognize this as a legitimate form of knowledge in our profession. We typically might think of reflection as occurring in the test part of the design process, but reflection is intrinsic in the process–it is ongoing, or “in action,” as explains Clarke. (I really think she is onto something; I also see this in the research process. Reflection is not strongly emphasized in information literacy, either, but it is essential throughout the process. I know that professors sometimes have students write a reflection at the end of a research assignment, but some have students write in journals about the research process while students are working on a research assignment. Interestingly, at the end of the webinar when Clarke was taking questions, she commented that many people were mentioning that information literacy is a wicked problem.) Design also relies on repertoire; Clarke argues that librarians are often drawing upon past knowledge, experiences, and ideas they see to make decisions for their libraries.
3. Design Evaluation
Evaluation methods in design are also different than in science. Scientific evaluation methods like replication don’t work well for design work. Design is meant to come up with different solutions, not repetition. One method for evaluation in design is rationale–the justification and reason for design choices, which is based on how the problem has been framed. For example, if the purpose in keeping the Dewey Decimal Classification system is for a school library to be able to work more closely with the public library, that’s a better classification design for the school library to use than an author and genre classification system. Another method involves constructive critique–what works and doesn’t work in this particular design? The feedback furthers the artifact and furthers knowledge.
Implications: Research, Education, Practice
Librarians do all of these things. Clarke is arguing that we make design more explicit in research, education, and practice.
She and I also agree on a lot of things regarding current LIS research. I was tickled that she touched on the complaints that library research is not research-y enough; it’s more “this is what we did and how we did it.” I know I have been critical of that in the past myself, but that’s because I wasn’t thinking about our discipline as being a design discipline. Librarianship isn’t a hard science, and it isn’t a humanities discipline. I always tried to explain it as an applied field, but what does that really mean. Is it education? Clarke argues that these traditional measurements aren’t appropriate; she explains that research through design is emerging in user experience and interaction design fields, which may use some traditional evaluation methods but is not necessary for the research to be valid. How a library reports that they did something, which includes the rationale behind it, is valid research. We do need increased avenues for critique, and Clarke mentions that there does seem to be a growing interest with the rise of the critical librarianship movement. For example, critical librarianship critiques that the Dewey Decimal System, which comes from the Victorian era, emphasizes knowledge categories in white, Christian terms. However, the movement is still not grounded specifically in design. Perhaps our profession could arrange spaces where people could bring in their designs for critique as another mode of research; the Museums and the Web conference does this.
Clarke argues that Masters of Library and Information Science (MLIS) programs in North America offer no design courses. Students are introduced to design through MOOCs and workshops, or they become introduced to design while on the job. Taking the Hyperlinked Library MOOC and User Experience a few years after I graduated with my degree is what really got me thinking more about design. Clarke notes that the University of Washington is launching a new (online) course for its MLIS program in Fall 2016, Design Approaches to Librarianship. Clarke also says that MLIS programs lack the “studio environment” with ongoing feedback, a safe pace to practice and fail, how to reflect, and how to give and receive critique. Given that one of librarianship’s core values in lifelong learning, she argues that MLIS programs should encourage students to be proactive in increasing their skill sets. Not everything is going to be taught or learned in library school. I could not agree more!
Clarke believes that if we re-frame librarianship as a design discipline, we will create better designs. These better tools and services will help libraries be better at advocating about the library’s values, which may lead to more funding. Clarke claims, “Embracing design offers potential for empowerment.” Clarke shares a study she read about user experience librarians that showed that even these librarians do not see themselves as designers. It could be because the actual design work is being carried out by other departments, such as the IT Department. Since these librarians aren’t designing the tool, they feel like they have no power over how it will look or work. Many librarians also buy tool and products from vendors. Some of these perspectives could be changed with increased education, but workplaces could also build design tasks into job descriptions or offer support for design projects. As many libraries are beginning to have makerspaces and other kinds of innovation labs in their spaces, Clarke believes it is imperative that we consider thinking about librarianship from a design perspective. She asks, “How can we empower others to be makers if we don’t fully understand making ourselves?”
Thinking about librarianship as design also offers some broader considerations. Clarke sees that the values of librarianship–privacy, democracy, intellectual freedom, diversity–is what separates us from other information professions. She says, “Values are always embedded in design artifacts.” She explains that if we aren’t designing our systems, software, furniture, buildings, etc., our values are not carried out into the design.
I deeply enjoyed this webinar, and I watched it pretty closely, stopping the recording often to take notes and jot down the examples Clarke gave in showing the audience how the work of librarianship is entrenched in the discipline of design. I’m very interested in reading more of her work and more about design.