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Catalog of Topics — co-design artifact

The Flexible Library of 2017

During our initial ideation phase, someone on my team thought of the “Mini Cardboard Library” — a smaller child size library containing cardboard books that would be built inside the main library — or something like that. I wasn’t really paying that much attention. I mean, how was building a library inside a library going to help. School Librarians had actual frustrations, like control over the space. This idea wasn’t going to help the librarian transition towards The Flexible Library of 2017.

Everything is fine

We were making awesome progress. Joanna, had just reaffirmed my idea that the bookshelves were too static. The Flexi Bookshelf Converter must be it. Imaging being able to add wheels to all these bolted down bookshelves. The librarian would finally have freedom. Teachers could have meetings in the library. The school could accommodate more space for guest speakers. The timeline of this would be on the order of weeks — and we could start making an impact right now.

Just humor it

But co-designs are not about giving yourself an ego boost. They are to test ideas, to shape ideas, to break your expectations, and to gain a deeper understanding about your user group. And so, one of my teammates brought up one of our crazy ideas, the “Mini Cardboard Library”.

Wait. What? You’ve done something like this? Ooooh, not exactly the same, but like a catalog with the titles of books and the locations in the library organized by topic. So a page on pirates has the titles and locations of all the pirate books in the library. Interesting. If we just combine the “Mini Cardboard Library” and “The List of Topics”, we get “The Catalog of Topics”. How should we place lay out the titles? Hmm, yeah! Just like the “Mini Cardboard Library”, if we use the front covers of books students will be less intimidated by the catalog. We can also help students learn the Dewey Decimal System by including the right number. Can you draw what you’re thinking right here?

But co-designs are not about giving yourself an ego boost. They are to test ideas, to shape ideas, to break your expectations, and to gain a deeper understanding about your user group.

Catalog of Topics

The Catalog of Topics is an idea also shaped by one of the core frustrations of a school librarians. Librarians need a way to encourage autonomy in students who already have motivation to read, and time to foster motivation in students who don’t. Too often, a class of students will visit the library and form a long line for librarian help. At the front of the line, students are motivated and love reading but can’t books they want to read. At the back of the line, the students don’t share that motivation and need personalized help from the librarian. The Catalog of Topics allows the motivated students to help themselves find books by teaching the Dewey Decimal System. As a result, the line is shorter and the librarian can help the students in the back.


The Catalog of Topics ended up representing one possible direction for our design review — changing the way school libraries organize books. It went from an idea that I didn’t understand, to the idea that I passionately raved about during our design review. For me, whenever I start doubting whether or not an idea will work, I will think back to the Catalog of Topics — and how choosing to humor a crazy idea in co-design allowed me to grow as a designer.