Redesigning a library: A two-day design challenge for Fung Fellows

By Jessie Ying

Every Berkeley student knows the struggle of looking for a seat in Moffitt Library, one of the most popular study spots on campus. Its reputation for always being packed has made it the subject of many complaints and memes. But this is about to change.

Last month, 55 newly admitted students to the Fung Fellowship for Wellness and Technology Innovations, a program where undergraduates learn to innovate and develop technology solutions for public health challenges, took on a design challenge to address the issue of seat scarcity and resulting lack of inclusivity and community at Moffitt. This effort is one example of the Fellowship’s commitment to giving back to the broader UC community and supporting student wellbeing across campus.

Moffitt is one of UC Berkeley’s 32 libraries that make up the fourth largest university library system in the U.S., with over 10 million volumes and over 70,000 serial titles. The university renovated the fourth and fifth floor of Moffitt Library in 2016, transforming it into a modern and spacious study environment that is open 24 hours and allows food and beverages. These new changes have drastically increased its popularity, attracting an average of 7,500 students every day. But they have also led to the aforesaid problems.

“There isn’t enough of a sense of a community,” Jean Ferguson, the Learning and Research Communities Librarian said. “People don’t feel comfortable asking each other ‘Can I sit here?’”

Transforming Moffitt with Creativity

In an effort to tackle this problem, the Fung Fellowship teamed up with the Student Tech Fund, UC libraries, and the Tang Center (University Health Services) and challenged its incoming cohort to find innovative solutions. The Fellows were divided into six groups and given 30-hours to create a short video about the problem and their innovations for improvement. They faced one major constraint: Adding more seats is not an option due to fire safety code.

This limitation forced the Fellows to be creative, and they surely did. One surprisingly easy solution that almost all groups brought up was providing lap desks.

Jerome Wang, a Fung Fellow and third-year public health major, explained, “we recommended that they should invest in more lap desks, so you can put your laptop on the desk while sitting on the ground or sofa.”

Seat Saving Made Easier

The Fellows also found ways to address the confusion of seat saving.

“Often times people are frustrated because even though there are empty seats, they are reserved with a notebook or a sweatshirt,” one Fellow explained in their presentation video. “It’s hard to tell if someone is going to the bathroom for five minutes or if their stuff has been there for ten hours.”

Their team designed a sign campaign to encourage students to speak up and ask whether a seat is taken or not with lines, such as, “Don’t be afraid to ask” or “It’s okay to talk to the student next to you.”

“We really want to make sure that the signs are first, educational and second, in the right location,” Jerome said. “Because we’ve talked to people and figured out that even though there were signs, they didn’t read them because they were out of the way.”

One group developed a seat timer concept that would allow students to take healthy breaks when studying without having to worry about their seats being taken. Students can clip the timers to their chairs and reserve the seat for up to 50 minutes. Once the time runs out, the seat is up for grabs.

Exploring More Possibilities

Diverting traffic to other libraries was also one route that many groups pursued. Fellows proposed the development of an app (or adding a function to the existing student services app) that would show the number of seats available in each library live, using data from counters installed on the gates at the entrances of the libraries.

“We have used that information to get a sense of the total traffic for the semester. We’ve never looked at it in a granular way to see what traffic is like in real time,” Jean, the librarian, said. “I think something really interesting could be done there.”

In preparation for future students, the Fellows also suggested ways to educate incoming freshmen, such as incorporating information about library etiquette and resources into orientation tours. This way a friendly and inclusive study environment can be established and sustained.

Learn about all the proposed innovations through their final videos.

What to Expect

The university is in the process of implementing many of the ideas presented by the Fung Fellows. Jean has already pitched the idea of purchasing lap desks to library administration and is awaiting approval. Ideally, she hopes to have lap desks available in Moffitt by mid-October so that more students can use the library during the high-impact midterm season. More complex solutions like the real-time student traffic-display app will take longer to be developed. Jean is hoping to team up with the student organization, Innovate Berkeley, to build the app.

The Fellows themselves also learned a few lessons from working with students from different majors and backgrounds.

“Going into the Fellowship I was very intimidated by the differences,” Hailey Windsor, a Fellow from the College of Environmental Design, confessed. “But after the challenge where I got to work with a team that’s super interdisciplinary, I got a renewed sense of confidence and understand the value of interdisciplinary teams. I think the best ideas often come out of conflicts.”

We can’t wait to see the new Moffitt transformed by the Fung Fellows!

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