User-Focused Service and Organizational Design

With the budget turbulence of the last several years in abeyance, we find ourselves with the opportunity to consider more deeply and fundamentally how we design our services and our organization in support of the academic mission at the U.S. Military Academy. Libraries have long served as an academic anchor, supporting research and study across the curriculum. Serious academic study could not be completed without the information resources held by the library. Times have changed.

Access to information has never been easier with the “wisdom” of the Internet in our pockets wherever we go. However, finding the right or the best information has never been more difficult as the volume of mediocre to poor resources increases exponentially every year. Libraries continue to have a rich opportunity to deliver outstanding resources to their communities in the same ways we always have. We have the tools and expertise to separate the wheat from the chaff to make research easier and more relevant. Our users, however, may not always see this as they settle for “good enough” resources while they do their work. We must ensure that the fundamental design of our services and organization itself convey the benefit and richness of an academic library.

Good design is incredibly difficult to achieve, which is why “the way we have always done it” is often the design choice for services or organizations. For service organizations like libraries, however, we cannot choose a traditional path for design. We must instead chart a new course toward a much deeper partnership with users. We must design services that meet their needs in ways that reinforce the value of quality information service and significantly improve their ability to do their work. We need to challenge long-held assumptions about the nature of information use and our own work. We need to have the vision and courage to innovate and reinvent both our services and our organizations themselves.

In early summer 2014, USMA Library staff began strategic conversations to explore these topics. We are seeking to understand more completely the changes happening both around us and beside us as we deliver academic information support to the Academy. We hope that these conversations will continue over the 2014-15 academic year and will begin to lead to some of our own innovation and invention.

As we do so, our North Star will be our users, not our tradition or how things used to be. We will seek to make sure that our design decisions reflect user needs — both the ones they perceive today and the ones we know they will have in the future (whether they themselves know they will have them or not). Designing to current user needs can be achieved relatively easily. Users can be asked what they want, and then services and support organizations designed to meet those needs. In fields of rapid change and development, however, users may not always know what they want (or what they should want). As information professionals, we need to exert our vision and understanding of our profession to help guide and lead our users toward the future we know is coming, not just the world of today. The best design evokes not just comfort in being able to work efficiently today, but also curiosity about the capability of tomorrow.

Pre-requisites for these conversations are the development of a degree of comfort with change and a willingness to stand up as professionals to make our own future rather than have one of someone else’s design thrust upon us. I look forward to moving into the future with the talented team at the USMA Library in the coming year.

Published in USMA Library Program Review 2013-2015