My research centers on the explicit use and incorporation of design epistemologies in librarianship. Often library design refers to architecture, furniture or signage. Sometimes it refers to technology, like websites. But libraries are steeped in design: from cuneiform lists of holdings in the ancient libraries of Sumeria, to classifications like the Dewey Decimal Classification system that enabled browsing of resources by subject rather than acquisition order, to modern readers’ advisory and recommendation databases. What separates a library from merely a collection is the design of tools and services that unite users with information. I examine the history, theory, and practice of librarianship from the perspective of design epistemology to facilitate the systematic and purposeful creation of future library services.

The bulk of my research focuses on reconceptualizing librarianship as a design profession rather than a scientific discipline. Design is a creative discipline that often seems magical and intimidating to outsiders. Yet design reflects unique ways of knowing and assessing knowledge, different from traditional science. My multiple award-winning dissertation, “It’s Not Rocket Library Science: Design Epistemology and American Librarianship” analyzes examples of artifacts created through American library history to argue that librarianship is truly a design discipline. Continuing work draws on the idea of critical design–the creation of provocative artifacts to challenge established assumptions–to reveal ways in which libraries can explicitly, rather than implicitly, demonstrate and empower the values that set them apart from other information service providers. I also explore ways of incorporating design epistemology into both formal and informal LIS education.

Current research projects:

Despite consistent usage, 21st century libraries are regularly under pressure to defend and justify their existence to various entities, including administrators, policy makers, legislators, and community citizens. One predominant tactic is to develop quantifiable measures that communicate library value, such as return on investment calculators that demonstrate savings achieved through the use of library collections and services. However, many of these value calculations only consider resources and collections, rather than the labor needed to make those resources accessible. This project uses a critical design approach to investigate ways to communicate the value of professional librarian labor. Through the creation of an interactive, web-based tool that calculates and concretely quantifies the financial value of librarian labor, this work will expose the previously invisible yet important work of librarians, critique the status quo of libraries as resource collections, and offer a new way for libraries to advocate for support. 

While diversity is a core value of American librarianship, no systematic and scalable tools currently exist to promote diverse reading materials by and about marginalized populations. The project uses a research through design approach to investigate how systematic tools like library catalogs can advocate for diverse materials, encourage exposure of such materials to a broader audience, and prevent the unintentional erasure of such materials in library collections and explore what metadata elements, values, and organizational structures are necessary to achieve these goals. Using a critical design approach, we created a library catalog that advocates for diversity and exposes library users and readers to resources from populations traditionally marginalized in literature and publishing by designing a system where the default is no longer the white heteronormative male author. Such a system offers the possibility to raise awareness of diverse library materials; expose readers to new and different resources, ideas and cultures; alter reading habits; and ultimately provide more equitable representation by preventing the inadvertent and unintentional erasure of diverse library materials.

This project seeks to understand the current state of design thinking and methods in master’s level library education by identifying gaps in existing MLIS curricula, exploring possible approaches to design in master’s level library education, and offering concrete, actionable recommendations for incorporating design into master’s level library education. To achieve these goals, we created a national forum on design thinking and methods in master’s level library education organized by Syracuse University and hosted by the University of Washington in Seattle. This forum brought together expert library educators, design educators and professionals, and library employers to discuss what elements are necessary to incorporate design into master’s level curricula. The forum consisted of three major phases, each reflecting one of the project goals: (1) a field scan of design approaches in library education and practice; (2) a national forum on design in master’s level library education; and (3) the production of curricular recommendations for future education.


Previous research projects:

  • Metadata and organization for video games

In conjunction with the GAme MEtadata Research (GAMER) group at the University of Washington, I explore new ideas and approaches for organizing and providing access to video games and interactive media, particularly from a user-centered perspective. This includes the design of metadata schemas, controlled vocabularies, and other related products as well as reflection, evaluation and analysis of these products to reveal insights about both gaming and knowledge organization.

  • Alternatives to traditional library cataloging and classification

My experience as a professional librarian at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising raised many questions about the information behavior of artists and other creative users. My early research focused on new approaches to library catalogs and classification systems that could assist these specific user groups.