Grand designs: Victoria’s State Library scoops international award

State Library of Vic FINAL

The State Library of Victoria has scooped the top award for overall service design in public sector services in the international Good Design Awards 2015.

When the State Library decided to  redesign its library services and improve customer service its staff did a very sensible thing: they sat and watched how people used the library and moved about the space.

Over a 12-week period the team, in partnership with Sydney design company Meld Studios,  looked at the library’s current service delivery and identified opportunities for improvements and innovation. Areas focused on included: customer self-help options, the number and location of customer service points, the physical library space, digital and mobile technology, staff skills and development and trends in service designs in other organisations.

The Library’s Manager of Service Delivery and Design, Ben Conyers, said that one of the reasons the library won the award was the high level of involvement from library staff in the design process, with around half of the library’s 330 staff having active input.

Staff were invited to workshops to contribute ideas on areas such as making the library more accessible to the public, digitalising collections and improving customer service. Eighty staff also did a walk through while the library was closed to check out new signs and new locations for different desks to gauge their opinions.

“Just about all of the ideas that we came up with in the future service model were ones that staff had identified as opportunities. That was really good,” he said.

It had also been useful to invite design experts from Meld who had never been to the building before and who  sometimes picked up design elements that library staff missed.

“Meld pointed out to us that one of the entrances to the library didn’t have a sign on it saying “this is the entrance to the library”. We’ve walked in and out of there every day and we’ve never noticed that fact!” Mr Conyers said.

Mr Conyers said he was surprised at how effective it was simply watching people navigate library services and asking them about their objectives and whether they’d encountered any problems.

“We spent weeks where we just spent hours in different parts of the library observing how people were using the space and their behaviours,” he said.

For example, he observed a group of school children hovering around the entrance to the library clutching their surveys but they walked away, deciding not to go in.

Mr Conyers spoke to the group and discovered that they were put off by security bars at the library entrance. The students concluded that they would need a membership to enter, which they assumed they were too young to hold.

“They saw bars there stopping them from actually walking into the library. The State Library should be a place that’s there for everyone and it’s really sad to see that the kids felt they couldn’t walk in.”

Mr Conyers said that people using the library regularly were very comfortable coming into the space but that it could be intimidating and hard to understand for other people.

To make the library more welcoming the design team decided to relocate security staff at the rear of the building and to relax bag entry rules so people could bring in larger bags, food and drink. This measure aimed to drastically reduce interactions with security officers and create a more relaxed atmosphere.

One of the biggest challenges the team faced was reimagining the library’s services and identifying how they could be run differently.

“We [previously] had a service model that was built around the collections,” Mr Conyers said.

“A really obvious change was how could the service be run differently if you started from the point of view of the customer first and made it easier for the person walking in off the street to work out how to find what they’re looking for?”

He said that lots of library visitors wanted to do things themselves from start to finish and to this end, and to this end  straight-forward tasks such as booking time on library computers or finding out when ordered items could be picked up were automated. An electronic booking system was set up and texts sent.

Another major change designed to enhance the library’s services is rezoning some of the areas of its interior according to purpose.

“We needed to look at better zoning, rather than having people trying to interact with the collections, run educational programs and use computers all in the same space. The redevelopment will allow us to separate out some of these spaces and make things work a lot better,” Mr Conyers said.

Some of the reforms enacted were quick wins, like providing identifiable uniforms for staff, better signs or relaxing rules around the size of bags.

“I’m really hoping that we will make it easier for people to use our services and to connect with our collections. It will make the library a more welcoming place,” Mr Conyers said.

Much of the library’s space will be redesigned over the next four or five years starting from July 1. Queens Hall will be reopened, exhibition space increased, the foyer totally overhauled, more areas thrown open to the public, an extra entrance added at the back of the library and the Russell St entrance will be reopened.

Other finalists in the Public Sector Services awards were Service ACT- developing a service framework for an entire government, and Victorian Government customer service centres.

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One thought on “Grand designs: Victoria’s State Library scoops international award

  1. Well done State Library! Those of us who live in Melbourne are very fortunate to have such a magnificent library with helpful and caring staff as well as a beautiful building and a fine collection.

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