Rethinking Service: Chicago's Grand Lobby

In Chicago’s central library, the Harold Washington Library Center, we had multiple check out points for materials in the 90,000 square meter building. To improve this process we consolidated these service points to one big desk on the first floor and added self checkout machines. Contrary to our vision of a seamless checkout experience, we ended up with long lines, confusion and frustration.

In order to problem solve, a design team observed services at the post office (in the US also known for long lines), interviewed CPL managers, staff and patrons and simply observed the activities in the Grand Lobby. In the end, we added some very simple – no cost – and thoughtful solutions. First, we moved a librarian to the first floor to provide reference services. Their interactions with patrons increased 99% from what they had been at the previous location on the third floor. They are also able to help assist patrons with the self check machines and once patrons become more comfortable with that process, the usage of the machines increased by 25% in one month and continues to steadily increase.  We also added signs to indicate where the line should form and a station for people to fill out the application for a library card.  Simple effective solutions that result in providing the same services but with an improved experience.

story by Diane Marshbank