What Makes a Library?

Redesigning the Library Experience for a First-Time User

As an IDEX Fellow in Social Enterprise, I worked with M.S. Educational Academy, located in Hyderabad, India, to redesign academic programs, revamp curricula, and augment school infrastructure. While there, I identified literacy as a key obstacle to improved academic performance, suggesting increased access to books via a school library as a critical leverage point to impact this system.

CONTEXT

  • Collaborative project with Jackson Thomas, Kyle Cooke, Shevika Mishra, Kaitlynn Saldanha, and Nina Pavlovska for six low-income elementary schools in India
  • Hyderabad, India, June 2012 - May 2013
  • My Role: Generative + Evaluative Research, Curriculum Development, Space Design
  • Credit: Library manual and organizational system drawn from programs by Pratham Books, the Hippocampus Reading Foundation and the Akshara Foundation

Reconsidering What Makes a Library

A Flexible Space for Learning

The interactive library space was designed to support dynamic teaching at a resource-strapped school in Hyderabad, India. Because the room would serve a variety of educational functions, furniture was kept to a minimum. Colorful mats provide flexible seating, and streamlined, locking bookshelves safely house the library's collection. This flexible arrangement ensures regular use by the entire school community even outside of regular library hours.

M.S. Educational Academy faculty and students participated in space design and engaged in testing and refinement of library activities and programming. Funding for the project, including 1000+ books, shelving and a second-hand computer was crowdsourced via Indiegogo. The school supported the hiring of a new librarian and continues to manage upkeep and maintenance of the facility.

Intuitive Organization

As a first exposure to this type of resource, special care was taken to make sure that elements of the library system were designed with new users in mind. Many traditional library practices had to be redeveloped due to infrastructural limitations, and the diverse, multilingual collection made conventional organizational and cataloguing systems infeasible. 

The resultant system, drawn from our extensive research, utilizes simple color and an alpha-numeric coding system. The visual system is both aesthetically pleasing as well as empowers students to navigate the library independently. The spatial design reinforces this sense of agency as young readers are invited to participate in book selection with easier books located on lower shelves.

 

Facilitating Implementation

A comprehensive manual outlines the library's organizational and operational procedure as well as contains the interactive library curriculum. Development of the manual was an iterative process with teachers, administrators and students testing and refining various parts. Excerpts from the section covering implementation of the book classification system as well as sample activities from the library curriculum can be found below.