Hybrid Placemaking in the Library: Designing Digital Technology to Enhance Users’ On-Site Experience

My paper on “Hybrid Placemaking in the Library” has been accepted for publication in the Australian Library Journal.

Bilandzic, Mark & Johnson, Daniel (2013) Hybrid placemaking in the library: Designing digital technology to enhance users’ on-site experience. Australian Library Journal.

It’s available at Taylor and Francis via this link. Alternatively, my author’s manuscript is available for free download at QUT eprints: http://eprints.qut.edu.au/62062/.


This paper presents research findings and design strategies that illustrate how digital technology can be applied as a tool for hybrid placemaking in ways that would not be possible in purely digital or physical space. Digital technology has revolutionised the way people learn and gather new information. This trend has challenged the role of the library as a physical place, as well as the interplay of digital and physical aspects of the library. The paper provides an overview of how the penetration of digital technology into everyday life has affected the library as a place, both as designed by place makers, and, as perceived by library users. It then identifies a gap in current library research about the use of digital technology as a tool for placemaking, and reports results from a study of Gelatine – a custom built user check-in system that displays real-time user information on a set of public screens. Gelatine and its evaluation at The Edge, at State Library of Queensland illustrates how combining affordances of social, spatial and digital space can improve the connected learning experience among on-site visitors. Future design strategies involving gamifying the user experience in libraries are described based on Gelatine’s infrastructure. The presented design ideas and concepts are relevant for managers and designers of libraries as well as other informal, social learning environments.

Implications for best practice

— New library models such as Library 2.0 embrace digital technology and media to foster conversations and participation with, for and by the user community; however, there is little practice or research on hybrid placemaking, i.e. the design and use of digital technology to improve the library as a physical place and library users’ in-situ experience.

Hybrid placemaking combines the opportunities of social, spatial and digital means to facilitate social interaction. Library practitioners should regard social, spatial and digital means as equally important and complementary elements for the design of interaction and peer-to-peer learning affordances in the library space.

— Ambient media applications serve as a tool for hybrid placemaking. They can visualise background information on currently co-present users in a library, thus amplify people’s awareness of the fellow user community.

— User research on Gelatine – a prototype system that was custom designed and evaluated to better understand the mechanics of hybrid placemaking shows that the system succeeded in amplifying users’ perceived sense of place. Users started to recognise the library space as a destination not only to work on their individual projects, but also to meet and connect with interesting other people. People used the system to identify likeminded users and initiated serendipitous conversations that were unlikely to happen otherwise.

— Gamification elements can be introduced through Gelatine and other ambient media to improve the user experience and encourage participation and engagement in the library. Gamification is referred to as the use of game design elements in non-game contexts, and can create greater engagement, fun or motivation among library users through reward types that are usually found in videogames, such as glory, access, facility and sustenance.

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