Book Reviews

Emy Nelson Decker and Seth M. Porter. Engaging Design: Creating Libraries for Modern Users. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2018. 159p. Paper, $70.00 (ISBN 978-1-4408-5612-9).

Book cover for Engaging Design

In this new release from Libraries Unlimited, the authors coin the phrase “engaging design.” Engaging design incorporates pieces of aesthetics, design thinking, and service design. The authors’ aim is to “parse [design] theories and make them understandable, easy to incorporate, and worthwhile to the reader.” The book is designed to be readable and usable by anyone working in academic, public, K–12, and/or special libraries.

As academic librarians, Emy Nelson Decker, NextGen Public Services Manager for the Georgia Tech Library, and Seth M. Porter, Head of the Stokes Library at Princeton University, have often focused on aesthetics and design as research interests, as well as communicating design principles to other librarians. Decker holds an MA in art history and is interested in visual thinking. Porter has served as an instruction librarian at Georgia Tech and the University of Alabama and is especially interested in innovation in higher education. The two authors “embark on this journey of helping to define what good design is in a library context and how its power can be harnessed toward the continued viability of all different types of libraries.”

Engaging Design begins with a thorough introduction to explain the premise of the book. Chapter 2 lays the foundation for the book, defining and discussing the three pieces of engaging design: aesthetic design, design thinking, and service design. The authors highly recommend reading this chapter as a foundation before reading any of the book’s other chapters. From there, the book moves on to specific pieces of librarianship, demonstrating how engaging design can be applied to each area. These include accessibility, physical spaces, instruction, and online learning. Each chapter contains at least one Action Plan list with a short summary of things to consider from the previous section of the chapter. Chapter 3, on accessibility, discusses how to incorporate engaging design into both physical and virtual spaces in a way that makes them usable by everyone. The chapter covers concepts such as universal design, inclusive behaviors, and design by adaptation. There is an especially detailed section on online course design. In chapter 4, the authors focus specifically on engaging design in physical spaces. They give an overview of library design history and architectural principles, including a deep dive into exterior spaces, and finish with a discussion of design for interior spaces. The Action Plan checklists feel especially useful in this chapter, as they contain actual next steps versus things to ponder.

The last two chapters apply engaging design to instruction and online learning. Chapter 5 applies engaging design to library instruction. The authors discuss creating an instruction cookbook, centered on learners, knowledge, assessment, and community. They cover pedagogy, informed learning, and active learning techniques. Last, in chapter 6, information about engaging design and online learning is presented. The chapter begins by defining some foundational concepts and then discusses models of instructional design, design principles, aesthetic learning, data visualization, and more. (This is the longest chapter in this short book.)

What is particularly interesting is that Engaging Design presents the entire concept through the eyes of Jane, a fictional librarian who is currently the head of an academic library, although she worked previously in a public library branch. Jane has the amazing opportunity to completely renovate her library and moves through this process during the course of the book. The authors chose this method of case-study presentation to focus on Jane’s well-executed and successful designs, versus using real-life examples where designs may not have always gone as planned. Other than the Introduction, the entire book is written in the third person from Jane’s point of view. Some readers may find this off-putting, as it adds unnecessary verbiage. There are also many extraneous details about Jane’s life—the reader is presented with an entire treatise on how Jane makes coffee. I would have preferred a case-study story about Jane interspersed with the content from each chapter written from the author’s perspective instead of Jane’s.

Despite being a book about design, the book contains very little in the way of charts, graphs, or other illustrations, except for one photo of a children’s librarian to accompany one of the vignettes about Jane’s life. It does contain a thorough index. While the premise of engaging design is thought-provoking, I recommend the book only for comprehensive collections in this area. The treatment of each subject matter is not deep enough for someone intending to reimagine that part of their library; it would require other, more extensive sources to fill in the gaps.—Ruth Szpunar, DePauw University

Copyright Ruth Szpunar

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