On the Student's Terms

The University has an amazing, brand new main library. But not only that, the work practices of the library staff were rethought as well.

On the Student's Terms

The brand new Helsinki University Main Library in Kaisa House, has been designed to serve its users. The library was not designed to be a traditional book repository, but a facility that supports students, researchers and teachers in their work.

A service design project entitled ‘Smart Design' was implemented for the benefit of the Library's largest customer group, i.e., students. The Library was made into a meeting place combining facilities, materials and services. This model will also apply to the libraries on the other campuses.

But what exactly is service design?

"You can design other things besides objects - even services. Design is not only about the creating of a physical form, but also involves the planning of interaction - and communication," says Mikko Koivisto, the head designer of the project.

Concrete examples of service design include the students' break room and Be back soon signs for users. Most importantly, students took part in the design process.

Different surveys and workshops were organised to gather information about the students' library use. Four key customer profiles, for whom the services were then constructed, were created based on the data: the lingerer, the visitor, the investigator and the patron. Each has sub-profiles, and individual students can be characterised by several profiles, but the classification facilitated the progress.

Smarter communication

Naturally, the Library has been providing services for a number of decades - however, the average student has not been aware of most of them. The service design project was not only about creating something new, but also about smarter communication for existing services. Different introductions and information packages were redesigned from scratch from the users' point of view.

One novelty is the library user etiquette: guidelines not designed to command or prohibit, but to offer advice on the proper behaviour in different facilities.

"For example, many people have been confused as to where talking is allowed," Koivisto explains. All the facilities in the new Library are colour-coded based on whether normal talking, whispering or - shush! - no talking is allowed.

Koivisto and his colleagues have also designed a range of ‘service gestures' for the library staff to facilitate customer service, including Workspace reserved signs, plastic bags for carrying and protecting books, as well as free earplugs.

Service is never ready

Mikko Koivisto and his team developed over a hundred new service ideas for the Library, ten of which will be implemented in the first stage. In addition, Koivisto encourages the Library staff to boldly implement unfinished ideas.

"Services are never ready. If everything must be perfect at once, reforms bloat into unmanageable processes that can never be finished." An online user community was also developed for the project, and it will continue to operate even after the Library is finished.

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Text: Tuomo Tamminen
Photo: Ari aalto
Translation: University of Helsinki Language Centre
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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