Library Test Kitchen 2016

August 10, 2016

Library Test Kitchen

Re-envisioning the 21st-Century Library

This Summer, a Library Test Kitchen course was held at Simmons SLIS. Using the Collaboratory, the course offers students the opportunity to experiment with “human-centered design skills, ethnographic observation and interviews, rapid ideation, applied problem-solving, developing and pitching ideas, identifying assumptions, and design fictions.” We spoke to course instructors Jessica Yurkofsky, Matthew Battles, Jeff Goldenson, Jeffrey Schnapp, and Candy Schwartz, as well as Dean Eileen Abels, for additional insight on this unique course.

Tell us about the Library Test Kitchen. What is the goal of the course? What makes it unique?

Library Test Kitchen is a course that seeks to address some big questions via a tightly focused, hands-on, practice-based point of entry. The questions have to do with the forms that the 21st century libraries could or should assume: how might libraries today bridge the worlds of print and digital documents, of physical presence and telepresence? How might they operate as spaces of civic engagement? Should they become workshops, laboratories, innovation incubators where emerging and future forms interact and dialogue with the relics of the past? Where then should books “go” in the 21st century? And how about all the other “old media” that make up the record of human civilizations? And what might library services look like in the era of networks and smart devices?

The point of entry is a design studio for future librarians that has the following goals and unique characteristics:


  • Comfort with experimentation and risk-taking 
  • Turning observations into experiments you can carry out and learn from 
  • Give students space and support to explore new making skills (analog and digital)

What makes it unique

  • Emphasis on making as a mode of discovery 
  • Emphasis on visual communication of ideas 
  • Emphasis on the prototype -- how can we turn an idea into a “minimum viable product,” something we can quickly make and test?

Test KitchenWhat was the catalyst for the creation of this course?

"Simmons SLIS is excited to offer the first version of LTK for students enrolled in a library science program," says SLIS Dean Eileen Abels. "Having the students imagine what can be in libraries will help them shape the future of libraries, archives, and information centers in the future. The skills gained from this course are also applicable to all information professionals. We hope to share the syllabus and course material as well as resulting projects with LIS programs world-wide as well with interested libraries and archives."

LTK@Simmons is one of several proofs of concept that emerged from the IMLS-funded National Forum Planning Grant "Envisioning Our Information Future and How to Educate for It." LTK is an example of innovative teaching and a different approach for LIS education focused on design thinking. Information about the project can be found at:

The course originated at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design as a collaboration between Harvard Library, the Library Innovation Lab, and metaLAB (at) Harvard. It was seen as an opportunity to teach architecture students about libraries and invite them to think about libraries as design opportunities. As time went on, the teaching team became interested in what it would mean to do the inverse: to teach library students how to apply design thinking in their institutions, communities, and careers. Though Harvard editions of the Library Test Kitchen actively involved Harvard librarians, the Simmons course is the first time that the course has been designed for and offered to LIS students. Everyone on the current instructional team—from metaLAB, the Olin College Library, and Simmons SLIS—is excited about the potential of this new version of the course, and hope that it can serve as a model for future educating in the LIS field.

Test Kitchen

What will students gain from this course?

Students will gain strategies for bringing experimentation into risk-averse environments, and the ability to think creatively to interpret librarianship for contemporary needs and situations. They will strengthen their presentation skills and be able to pitch ideas, telling a compelling story using text and visual communication.Students will be ready to incorporate making skills (such as digital drawing and layout, animated gifs, using a vinyl cutter) into the life of the library.

How might this course change the way students think of libraries?

In most courses, content and practice are appropriately framed by realities such as budgetary constraints, institutional and community politics, and regulations regarding matters such as patron privacy and intellectual property rights. In LTK@SLIS students are free to imagine and create without boundaries. The creative design thinking reinforced in this course, along with presentation and making skills, help students reframe the library as a place (in the broadest sense) for imagineering.

Photos, from top, courtesy of Jessica Yurkofsky:

The figure is a 3d print that is part of "Embellishelves" by Ethan D'Ver. The aim is to explore what a tactile browsing experience would be like, here using children's books about animals.

“hey there!” by Kayla Larkin explores the deployment of beacon technology in libraries for the purpose of communicating the identity and function of unfamiliar people, places, and things to patrons.

“Maker Packs” by Meg Blakemore allow all kids to bring home a literacy-connected maker activity.