Episode 47

Reimagining the K12 Library

How might the K12 library evolve to meet the needs of 21st century students and school communities? A team of K12 design experts from EHDD tackles this question and actively involves student populations to generate new design thinking. Emily Bello, Charlotte D’Acierno and Lalyn Yu explain how research suggested that an analog gaming approach might be the perfect solution to engage students in their research. Listen and learn how your school and students might participate.

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“Community was a recurring theme with every student group that we talked to. But what they meant by community and how they wanted to engage the broader community was different. For example, in the charter school that we worked with, there was a lot of talk about how the library could be a resource not only for the school but for the broader community. So, could there be language resources, for example, Wi-Fi, computer labs, things to kind of help bridge the inequities across their broader community?”


CCB: [00:00:01] Welcome to The ONEder Podcast. This is your host, CCB and today's conversation is with one of our 2022 ONEder Grant Award teams. And they've got some really, I'm going to say, compelling stories to tell and research to share about their project: Reimagining the K 12 Library. So, I'm going to say welcome to Charlotte, Lalyn and Emily from EHDD and I'll have each one of you introduce yourselves and kind of what your role was on the team. Charlotte, you want to take it away.

Charlotte: [00:00:35] Yeah. Thanks for having us. I'm Charlotte D’Acierno. I'm a designer at EHDD and I have a background in exhibition design, so I worked a lot on both the research and the infographics of this project.

Lalyn: [00:00:51] Thanks. My name is Lalyn. I've been with EHDD for almost coming up on a year now. I am a research specialist at EHDD. I'm interested in engaging participatory practices with our broader community. And in addition to that, I also help conduct empirical research to support social and environmental justice initiatives that are at the heart of EHDD’s mission and values as well good.

Emily: [00:01:19] I'm Emily Bello. I'm the K-12 design lead at EHDD designing for education is very much my passion, and my role here at the office. EHDD is an architecture firm. We have offices in both San Francisco and Seattle, and we specialize in institutional projects ranging from schools, higher ed, K-12 schools, libraries, to aquariums. And really at the heart of our practice is design for positive impact. And that includes sustainability, community engagement, equitable design. It's what we're striving for in all of our work. Our mission is to create transformative places of belonging and impact. And this grant has really given us the opportunity to broaden our impact as a practice and to be inspired and talk to a whole range of students and educators and thought leaders. So thank you very much for this opportunity. It's been fantastic.

CCB: [00:02:27] Certainly. You now have introduced the kind of the heart of your particular research, but I'd love you to give a more overarching definition of what did this particular project look like for you?

Emily: [00:02:45] Great. So, in our school practice, the topic of the school library is something that came up again and again. And, you know, libraries, both public and private and school libraries, have been in a state of flux for many years. And in K-12, you know, they're really the academic heart of the school. And in the last few years, you know, physical collections of books have been shrinking. So the question is what fills that void? But also, what we learned through this process is the way students access and engage with information has also fundamentally changed. Libraries really have the opportunity to be places that really reflect student values and needs. We learned through the process that they can actually be places of restorative practice within school communities, they’re resources of wellness. So, with all of these all of this potential that bubbled up, the question at the heart of this was really what is the new identity and the potential of this space within schools? And libraries really have the opportunity to be places of change and transformation within the school to serve a broader range of student needs. And in the process, we actually developed a physical board game, which we'll talk more about, as an engagement tool. And what that allowed us to do is really give students agency in the design process to really capture, okay, what do they really care about? What do they really need? And I have to say, it was really inspiring to hear the full range of needs, and sort of humbling to understand the how we had to be, kind of how surprised we were with what we learned.

CCB: [00:04:45] I think looking at, everyone who's listening will have the opportunity to access your research paper so that they'll be able to dive a little bit more deeply into kind of more of the details. But one of the things that I'm going to say was, was I don't know what the right word is. Um, it was intriguing to look at the breadth of communications that you had across a number of different, a number of different segments of the, of the library user or, you know, influencer or owner. And I'd love for you to spend a little bit of time and talk about how, how did that, how was that initially envisioned and what did it turn into.

Emily: [00:05:33] Great. Maybe I'll introduce it and then Lalyn or Charlotte, if you want to sort of tell the story, that would be great. So the framework is that we spoke with, we worked directly with three schools, one charter school in Nevada, all high schools, one public high school in Oakland, and an independent high school in California. And we worked with the students. We tried a variety of different tools, digital sort of engagement sessions on Miro and Zoom. We met with them in person and did gameplay. And Lalyn and Charlotte, do you want to share some of our stories and takeaways?

Lalyn: [00:06:23] Yeah, I can start off. Um, we sort of kick started this actually in our office before we kind of took it public. And I just remember the first question we asked was just like, what was the most impactful experience that you had in your library? And at this point we were just talking about libraries in general. Um, but we sort of kick started it off with something super broad like this, because we got a whole variety of experiences. Some people talked about how it was the first place that they could go, they could leave their kids unsupervised. Some people talked about all of the atmospheric qualities of a library and how people could feel calm. It's one of the few places that are free, you know, and you can go as a resource for free wi-fi. Some of them are fix-it clinics now. And so, we started this dialogue about libraries at large. And then we talked to a bunch of different community thought leaders, and then we ended ourselves talking to the actual students that were, you know, inhabiting these library spaces. And what was really interesting about that was that like, every school sort of brought a different aspect of community to that. Everyone was kind of centering community as like, the pure mission of the library. But and we'll go into detail a little bit more about that later, but how students view community is actually quite unique and very different, and it's also very much informed by how they grew up and where they grew up too. So, hopefully we can go more into detail about that as we talk about the game and also the results of the game as well.

CCB: [00:08:14] Charlotte, do you have something that you wanted to share?

Charlotte: [00:08:17] Yeah., I think you know one of the great, I'll say benefits of the pandemic is that we've gotten a lot more fluent in our digital communication. So, like Emily said, we were able to have these totally remote sessions with a school in Nevada. We had some hybrid sessions where sometimes some people would join us online and some people would join us in person. And I think we learned different things through each of those interactions. I think there was value in having both the digital and the in-person interaction. I'll say one of the things we noticed right off the bat, we were surprised, there was some hesitancy on the part of the students to interact with the physical prototype. It almost seemed like it was easier, they were more used to just kind of dragging things around their computer screens. Um, it kind of tied into this conversation we had with the library scientist, early on in the process. She was talking about, we as people have this sort of false bias that everything that's online and digital, because it's so readily available, is less valuable than something that's in person and real and tangible. But we definitely noticed that bias when we were working with the students. So, I think the onus was on us a little bit to make sure that when we did these physical prototypes, we could still keep this idea that this was a really loose process. It was a really freeing process. You're totally welcome to put your ideas down. And just because you're writing them down with a physical pen, we'll get more into the workflow in a minute, doesn't mean that it's, you know, it's more serious or.

CCB: [00:10:06] I'm curious, though. I mean, our last couple of years of being more remote and using more digital communications, does that have an impact, especially the younger that you are? You know, how much more context do you have or do you need, you know, to develop that level of comfort?

Emily: [00:10:26] Yeah. And you know, one of the stories that I love through the process is the school that we worked, the charter school we worked with in Nevada, we engaged the students through Zoom and also interactively on a Miro board, which they were really facile with, right. You know, right away. And I think that was partially successful because they were all huddled around one laptop. So, it was kind of a communal, in-person experience for them, even though it was remote for us. And I think for me, the part that I loved is the game actually allowed them to start little side conversations with each other and draw each other into the conversation in a way that I think is really hard to do when it's really all Zoom. And so, I think even the sessions that we had that were virtual, the most successful ones were still a little bit hybrid. And that I think, you know, we've come a long way, but there's still something about being in-person and having a little side conversation with someone that's still really valuable and meaningful.

Charlotte: [00:11:34] But I think we also learned we brought a bit of a digital component into some of our later in-person test play sessions. So Lalyn actually developed a facilitation slide show, so we could still everyone seems really used to having the big screen even in a classroom setting. Now, I'm dating myself here, um, it's not an overhead projector anymore, but so we were able to, to bring that in and offer some kind of, you know, like current workflow.

CCB: [00:12:08] So tell us a little bit more specifically about the game. What did it turn into? And I think in the research report, people will be delighted to learn more in detail about what the outcomes were because they're pretty spectacular. But talk about the game because it is a physical tool.

Lalyn: [00:12:32] Yeah, I can speak a little bit on that. So, the game was a result of many iterations on the question of how do we meaningfully engage students. At first, we were taking a pass at like, is it a survey, is it something you just fill out? Is it sort of like a BuzzFeed-esque quiz? And after we had our conversations with the library scientists and we talked about sort of digital archival and how people are a lot more willing to interact with things digitally, like a lot quote unquote, less meaningfully. We wanted to sort of challenge that a little bit. And also, just a rising conversation in general right now is just the gamification of everything. And I think that really does hold a lot of weight in the way where people are looking for something fresh, something refreshing, especially if you're like in a school setting and you're looking at a board for a long time. This is meant to sort of be an alternative to, you know, a worksheet or to an in-class discussion. Because it's kind of all of those things in like a sneakily fun way. So, it's essentially a collaborative programming tool in the form of both a physical and a digital game. And it also serves a reciprocal purpose as also an educational tool. So, the game is essentially modeled after the design thinking process, and students essentially work as a team to sort of design their dream library. So, the physical game consists of these hexagonal tiles and it sort of challenges you to think about your needs, understand the users, and also come up and propose solutions to the needs and constraints that you've already identified. So, you can kind of think of it a little bit like Settlers of Catan. We hosted a lot of in-person office charrettes to sort of like just purely talk about what people's favorite games are and what is like a successful game, what makes a game, you know, fun to play. And so this is sort of an aggregation of all of these different opinions.

Charlotte: [00:14:57] Right? Yeah. To piggyback on that, I think part of the reason we even ended up designing a game in the first place was we were hosting these office charrettes. We brought up the idea of a board game and then people got really excited. And people kept coming back and they kept wanting to talk about it. They kept wanting to talk about board game design and we were like, okay, great. Even if we come up with a bad board game, people will still want to play and then they'll want to tell us everything that we did wrong and we can improve it. So, it's kind of this like great engagement, actually.

CCB: [00:15:29] I'm struck by the fact that somebody I know, recent college graduate went to work for an AI firm AI business in San Francisco and they had board game nights. And these are like 22 year olds, you know, and they just jonesed out on like, you know, everybody getting together and playing board games, which I find very curious given the fact that they live in, you know, a much more digital world. But that there is something about it that brings you back together and gets team in person, in a way that you know it doesn't in the gaming world.

Emily: [00:16:04] Yeah. And in fact, the school that we worked with in Oakland, they also have game night because we started talking to the principal and we said, hey, should we do this digitally? Should we do this in person? What do you think your students will most respond to? And he said, oh yeah, we already have game nights. Like, come bring your game, bring some pizza. That's the best way to talk to the students. And in fact, I do think it was sort of the game in a way was, you know, broke the ice. It was a big builder with the students and then it kind of loosened everyone up a little bit to be able to meaningfully engage in conversation. It was great.

CCB: [00:16:37] Well, I also think that one of the things that comes out very loud and clear is the nature of the thoughtfulness of design thinking and human centered design being embedded in the game, and that it just becomes, you know, natural that you begin to think that way, which is lovely when we think about especially the industry and bringing more people in, the more that they understand and the more that they can be engaged, the more likely it is that somebody would have that idea. But anyway, talk a little bit more about the game, which again, if you're going to check out the research project, you'll be able to see it and envision it a little bit more effectively. But there's so many elements of the game. There's the kind of the initial understanding and then there's the engagement of taking your parts and pieces. But I love the Dive Deeper card. Who came up with that one?

Charlotte: [00:17:35] Lalyn, I think that's you.

Lalyn: [00:17:39] I think the Dive Deeper cards were sort of a realization that we didn't quite capture all of the nuance that goes into wanting a space, right? You can suggest a space, but there's just so many other things that go into it, right? Like, are we considering sustainability? What is really like the space trying to do? Like you can identify that you need this space and then you can suggest a space, but there's sort of everything else that happens in between the story building and like the qualitative elements to it that quite don't get captured by these things. So, we did our best to sort of think about like if we're designing a space and we're adding a space, like the actual inhabitation of it is also like another question, right? So, this is sort of a easy way to get students to start thinking about like the actual events and programs that are actually going on while also being aware of all of these other design considerations such as like sustainability. Like, oh, like you're going to introduce a new space in here, is there a sustainability goal like and a lot of groups that we talk to like do actively bring up like the recycling programs or like, you know, having food like in a specific space, like what are all those things that need to be considered in order to make that come to fruition? So that's sort of what those Dive Deeper cards were born from.

CCB: [00:19:09] I also think you referenced this earlier, Emily, but the nature of the community engagement and what does community mean to each one of the student groups and what does it mean in that community? So, they not only are they a product of their environments, but the actual physical community and the makeup of the demographics of that community.

Emily: [00:19:31] Yeah. And you know, community was a recurring theme with every student group that we talked to. But what they meant by community and how they wanted to engage the broader community was different. So, for example, in the charter school that we worked with, there was a lot of talk about how the library could be a resource not only for the school but for the broader community. So, could there be language resources, for example, Wi-Fi, computer labs, things to kind of help bridge the inequities across their broader community? With the independent school, there was a lot of talk about it being a space that the community could as a tool to engage with the broader community, and incorporate them more into the school's culture and academics. But I would say what struck me is that without prompting, every student group that we talked to was thinking about their school as an extension and connection to the broader community, which I was really struck by. And I think it really it builds on that idea that schools really are extensions of their community. And this the library has an incredible potential in these schools to be that bridge.

CCB: [00:20:54] Had a conversation recently with some of the folks from the Stanford d. School and it's the K 12 lab and talking about safety and belonging. So, to you know, how do you can be safe but do you feel safe. And I wonder if that conversation came up at all.

Emily: [00:21:13] Yeah, safety was another recurring theme across all the groups, and some wanted the library to be a place of refuge and physical kind of emotional, environmental safety. Um, and others, you know, talked about it really from a psychological standpoint. So, you know, with there's that idea of the threshold into a space and how important that is, and what you see and what you feel and what you hear, and do you feel like you can be there and belong there. And every student group talked about that. I loved some students talked about, you know, we should have in our library music playing that reflects the different cultures of all our different students. And so, as you come in, you hear that and we should have a student art gallery, so when you come in, you see student work or maybe community artwork. But the idea of safety came up again and again but again in different, in different ways.

CCB: [00:22:11] Um, so, so you, you've done an enormous amount of conversation. You've done, you've created the game as a tool. You have identified what a lot of the, the preliminary outcomes are. Where do you hope that this goes? All the research that you've done all the time, that you've spent all the thinking that has been done.

Emily: [00:22:35] Yes, we see. We see a few possible trajectories. Think first, you know, we've got the game which we want to share openly. And we have in the report that we hope that educators and librarians and schools can use as a tool to engage their students and really elevate student voices. We also found that in the process, we've actually, you know, what we've learned in terms of what students really want and need and their vision, their big ideas, we've captured that across a range of schools and we would love to share that and continue to share that information, both as a resource for educators, but also so students can really continue the dialogue with other students about their vision and ideas. Charlotte, do you want to talk a little bit more about that?

Charlotte: [00:23:29] Yeah, I think the fact that you touched on the fact that all of our students had really different ideas of what they wanted to see and they were bringing their own backgrounds to the design process. For us, that means that absolutely one of the first steps we want to take at the end of this process is making all of our results open source. So, connecting students with different classrooms all around the country, different types of schools, different sizes, different backgrounds, just so they can understand, kind of where everyone is coming from. And then I think I think it's an evolving process. So, first step is, hey, what did you come up with in the game documenting all of these different gameplay sessions as they happen? And then the next step is kind of a living database of potential strategies that emerge from the gameplay sessions. So those could be spatial strategies, environmental strategies. We've already started putting together a tool kit for some of our initial test play sessions with the schools that we've worked with. So, we're pulling out the themes that emerged as a result of the gameplay, and then we're creating these concept libraries. So, these are not really like hard and fast spatial ideas. These are more like, oh, like this is a library, this is a place where you could spark your passion. Or this is a place that could really fuel learning innovation or this is a place we've talked about before, this is a safe place where you can just feel free to be yourself and a place of restorative practices. And then I think the last step would be combining the strategies and the concept libraries and trying to figure out, okay, like let's plot them on an impact scale. So how much effort does it take to implement these strategies and how much impact do they have? And then, like I said, making that open source I think is really important.

CCB: [00:25:44] I see that as a huge value for the educators and the schools themselves to try and determine, you know, early on what might it take, what might this look like? What might it take from a resource standpoint? Um, I'm going to say, I can't believe 30 minutes is up and we've been chatting away like you have so much more to share, but we don't have much more time. So, what I want you to do is give each of you a last comment. If it's something that you want to make sure that everybody who's listening to this understands, if you want to reiterate something that you've already said or if there was some amazing illumination, insight that you came away from. Um, and then we're going to wrap it up. So, I'm going to go. Lalyn, you go first.

Lalyn: [00:26:34] Yeah. I mean, I think the last comment I had was actually just sort of about the importance of knowledge sharing. Um, I think collective curiosity definitely aids in the development of these new ideas and innovation. And sometimes when schools come from. like this isn't a wrong statement to say that some schools are largely more disadvantaged than other schools based off of funding, based off of geographical area. But I think it's really important that these ideas really do get shared because you don't know what else is better. You don't know what's better until you see it and experience it for yourself. So, I think a very valuable part of this is the work that acknowledging the work that we've already done, but also thinking about how to move forward in a way that allows us to share knowledge and share power with, you know, other schools in like, you know, all across.

CCB: [00:27:34] You guys have any plans yet for taking this on the road as a presentation? Yes. I'm hoping for yes. For educators. Yeah. Good. Okay.

Emily: [00:27:43] Yes. We would love it. In fact, if anyone listening is interested, reach out. We would love to talk with you. Play the game with more students.

CCB: [00:27:53] Charlotte, what do you have? Last? And I want to say thank you, Charlotte, for coming because I know you've been feeling a little bit under the weather and we are grateful that you are here.

Charlotte: [00:28:02] Yes, you should clarify that for the audience who has to hear my voice. I would just say that throughout the process, the thing that most impressed me was the teachers we were working with. I mean, of course the students, but I think the students, whenever they felt nervous with us or the game wasn't clear. It was really in its early stages. They would look to their teachers for guidance, and their teachers were so willing to take time out of their insanely busy schedules to work with us to help facilitate us working with their students. I feel like there's just this huge wealth of knowledge and passion and dedication there, and we as design professionals should be tapping into that as much as we can and trying to help as much as we can.

CCB: [00:28:48] Great. Okay. Last comments, Emily.

Emily: [00:28:53] So I think the takeaways for me were, I realized the potential of the design process and the design thinking process. I think libraries are still relevant and they're places and incredible opportunity right now in schools. And I think we need to be, as designers, empowering students in the design process because their voice really matters, and they've got a lot to say.

CCB: [00:29:28] The nature of that, and I think teachers feel this on a daily basis. I know many, that the amazing contributions that are made by students and the insights that they have that, you know, build such a rich relationship, communication, conversation and experience. So that's, I'm just going to say thank you very much EHDD for all the work that you did and for sharing this incredibly insightful and powerful research and all of our listeners, you'll be able to access it. As I have said on the ONEder Grant page for EHDD research. And thank you so much for listening. The Oneder Podcast is available on all podcast streaming services so you can find us anywhere and we hope that you listen in again. Thank you very much to all you.

EHDD [00:30:21] Thank you. Thanks!