We had a discussion of the theory of Distributed Cognition that was presented in last week’s lecture. The class was in two parts. In the first part, groups presented the results of their practical exercise, where they tried to apply the ideas of Distributed Cognition to explaining the way that the library functions. In the second part, they did a little design exercise where they tried to apply these concepts to a new situation.
Distributed Cognition in the Library
There were seven presentations on the following topics:
- Finding a book (4 groups).
- Process of creating a new patron record.
- How the books are numbered.
- How the books are categorized.
Some interesting results of the groups analysis were:
- Identifying the role that the librarians played in helping people find books
- Librarians are specialized in particular areas.
- Use of pieces of paper, post-it notes, and even a mobile telephone to record notes about a book.
- Looking at activities at various levels of detail, from screen to screen transitions in the online catalog to how people wandered around the space of the library when looking for a book.
Another interesting outcome of the exercise was that students identified several areas that seemed to present problems for library patrons. These might bear further investigation if one were involved in a re-design process in the library. These were:
- Difficulties associated with books that were located on a different campus,
- Seeming redundancy between the electronic and paper-based systems
- Apparent inconsistencies between the spatial organization of the books and the numbering system by which they are categorized
- Lack of adequate sign-age (an issue also raised by librarians).
In the second half of the class, we ran a design exercise where students divided into three groups of five and spent some time discussing how they might use some of the insights gained from their study, or from the theory of Distributed Cognition for a re-design of some aspect of the library. Each group was given a different theme. These were ‘Finding your way’, ‘Making it orderly’, and ‘Identity’.
The ‘Finding your way’ group proposed a color coding scheme along with improved sign-age to make the different sections of the library more readily discernible by library patrons. Shelves would be colored depending on the category of the books that they contain. Librarians specialized in a field would wear a name-tag or shirt of the same color. Maps of the library would also display the colors and be printed on the floor so they could be more easily related to the physical space.
The ‘Making it orderly’ group also proposed using colors in connection with the categories of books. However in their system, rather than shelves and maps being color coded, they placed a diagonal stripe across the spines of all the books in a shelf. The stripe would go from the top of a book on the left side all the way down to the bottom of a book on the right side. The purpose of this was to make it apparent if a book was missing from the shelf or was out of place on the shelf. In either case, the diagonal line would be broken. This scheme also entailed a new way for stacking books in shelves based on their date of acquisition.
The ‘Identity’ group proposed a system where library patrons could leave reviews or ratings of books for others to access. The system would be implemented by adding pages to the current library website. An additional feature is that when patrons sign up with the library, they can give information about their interests and courses. This information is then used to make search results more relevant to the person searching.