Last Wednesday I joined the Faculty & Departmental Librarians (FDL) meeting at the education faculty to have a chat about progress on FutureLib and reveal some of the concepts that we’ve come up with.

I started by giving a quick run down of the design research and meta-analysis. For those that haven’t been following along you can catch up with a summary of the student research, academic research and expert interviews.

Slides from Speakerdeck

I then talked about the ideation workshop that the project team, project board and the team from Modern Human did together and the 4 weeks of concepting and design iterations that followed. I described the half-day workshop where using the design research as stimulus we played rounds and rounds of ideation games until there were no ideas left in anyone. Altogether we generated around 300 opportunities and ideas, some good, some bad, some pragmatic and others downright absurd. The objective during the divergent thinking phase is, of course, to go broad. At that point there really is no such thing as a bad idea because you never know what talking about some of the bad ideas will spark. Following the workshop we took the ideas back to our studio and started recombining, remixing and filtering the ideas. This phase of convergent thinking led to 12 concepts. The concepts covered everything from physical spaces to interactions between staff and readers to search.

The FDL meeting was a good opportunity to get input from some more faculty and department librarians so I introduced three of the concepts.

Study Magnet

The first was StudyMagnet a service designed to crowdsource reading lists. We know reading lists are an issue. The student research demonstrated that there can be intense competition for resources during the short period between supervision and essay deadline (usually a week). During the study, students revealed that they find it stressful when they are not able to source enough of the resources on the reading list in order to write their essay. The problem is exacerbated by the way reading lists are prepared: several of the academic participants prepared readings lists the evening before a supervision.

Study Magnet is a reading list app that would help students to prioritise their reading and choose the reading material from a reading list that will be most helpful for their essay or supervision activity.

StudyMagnet on iPhone

A student would enter their supervision and reading list, either title by title or copying and pasting from an email. Study Magnet would parse the list recognising the titles on the list. The student would then confirm the results or adjust accordingly. Their reading list is augmented with data from Study Magnet – it could tell them how other students have tagged each title or how many other people have used each title for similar supervision topics.

Study Magnet would tell them where they can find each resource and electronic alternatives when titles are unavailable. If the student marks each resource they read and use in Study Magnet. It could automatically builds their bibliography for them to copy and paste onto the end of their essay.


The second was WhoHas. We saw in the student research that sublending is a common phenomena – students find ways of finding out who has the resources they need and either borrow them for a short period of time or share them. This is currently commonly facilitated through Facebook although sub-lending happened long before Facebook launched and will continue after students move on to other social platforms.

Students establish private Facebook groups in the first few weeks of term and use them to self organise and trade information. The groups are invite-only and are usually exclusive to a particular course at a particular college. Students will post questions to the group like: Who has…? Can I borrow it now? Can I share it?

Experience Model for WhoHas?

The current system involves recalling the title. Recalls allow any library user to recall a book to the library from whoever has borrowed it. Students described how emotional having an important resource recalled can be. They described ‘recall wars’ where they themselves recalled after having a book recalled. Many students said that they actively avoid recalling a book because of how it makes people feel.

So WhoHas is a peer-to-peer sublending service. It facilitates sublending of printed resources, turning the current black market  into a mediated service.

It is named after the common phrase used on Facebook to initiate sub-lending interactions with other members of the Facebook group. Those interactions almost always start with: ‘Who has…?’

When an item is out on loan users can request a transfer from the person who has borrowed it. The request is sent to their app.


The third was Spacefinder. We identified three study location preferences from the student research:

In the Library. These students find they are much more focused and effective in the library where there are far fewer distractions. The change of environment is often helpful. A lot of students go to the library when they NEED to get something done. For these students the library becomes their office.

In their room. The library environment doesn’t work for everyone. Those that study well in their rooms value the familiarity, quiet, convenience and flexibility of making a hot drink or snack which they haven’t found in any of the libraries here. They only visit the library to acquire resources.

Spaces that aren’t their room or the library. These students are looking for quiet spaces that don’t feel like libraries and often end up in JCR common rooms and sneaky study/computer rooms. They want group working spaces where they can make some noise and collaborate with others, or where they can talk out loud whilst reading or practising a language.

We also saw that students in Natural Sciences, Maths and Computer Science often study independently whilst sitting next to other people working on the same or similar problems. When they get stuck on something they are able to ask their colleagues for help. Before supervisions they explain things to each other in the form of mini lectures and hot seat games. This helps them to cement their own thinking and get more out of each supervision. They really value this collaboration.

Students are currently using places like the JCR, bar, library or squeezing groups of people into each other’s rooms and bringing whiteboards.

It seemed obviously important to let students and academics understand the variety of spaces available to them and actively choose a workspace based on their own requirements so Spacefinder is a search service that enables users to find different types of library spaces in which to work and study. It would list all CollabSpaces, FlexiSpaces and Digital Detox Zones across the campus, it would also list traditional library spaces.


Users would be encouraged to review library services by selecting the purposes that those spaces are best for, a little like TripAdvisor asks travellers what hotels are good for. For example, a user might be asked if a working space is good for working solo, brainstorming, creativity, quiet contemplation, inspiration, group work or no distractions.

Where possible SpaceFinder would use a user’s current location to suggest the most appropriate spaces nearby. Search filters allow the user to adjust their search until they find the perfect space for them. It would only suggest spaces that a user actually was allowed to use. For example, college facilities would only be shown to member of that college.

We’ve created some concept visuals to show how SpaceFinder might look and how it might work. All the mockups in this document are speculative and intended to illustrate the concept rather than imply final design or functionality.

Back in the FDL meeting, we did two exercises in groups:

  1. We discussed perceived value through the question: What might be the advantages to academics or students?
  2. We discussed the challenges of the concepts by identifying 3 challenges that result from the concept and phrasing each challenge as a “How might we…?” question intended to aid open thinking about solutions.

I hope members of the FDL found the meeting useful and interesting. It was certainly helpful to hear peoples’ thoughts. Meg Westbury also invited me along to the CCLF meeting, but unfortunately owing to other commitments we couldn’t be there. I hope we get another opportunity to engage with more College librarians.

Feel free to add your own perceived challenges or How Might We…? question in the comments below.

Paul-Jervis Heath
Modern Human

[Image by Steve Day via Flickr Creative Commons]