Caroline Wack

I have been working in the Design Thinking for LibraryServices lab this semester along with my wonderful peer mentors, Sophia McFadden-Keesling and Jordan Gorzalski, and our fearless librarian leaders,Meghan Sitar and Justin Schell. Our work focuses on building a design thinking tool for librarians, but we also use design thinking to create the tool. That’s right—we’re design thinking about design thinking! It’s very meta.

This focus on design thinking means that we’ve spent a lot of time this semester living in the fuzzy front end. That’s a term that basically describes the beginning part of a design process, where you might know what problem you’re trying to solve, but you’re not sure yet how you want to solve them. In the fuzzy front end, you brainstorm all of the different ways that you could approach and handle the problem. From there, you iterate and improve and sometimes go back to the drawing board. For example, my team was tasked with creating a tool that can be used to help librarians understand who they are designing their services for. This semester has been a cycle of brainstorming, prototyping, testing, identifying issues, brainstorming, prototyping, testing, identifying issues, brainstorming…andso on.

Spending so much time in the fuzzy front end of this project has been a positive creative experience, but it can also be frustrating and demoralizing. It’s a lot of ambiguity, after all—with each iteration, we identify new things that we don’t know. And this is where mentorship has been incredibly valuable. My peer mentors, Jordan and Sophia, are experiencing many of the same things I am, and so the three of us can work through the ambiguity together. We spend a lot of time discussing identities, gamification, and other hot-button issues while we are prototyping this exercise, and it means a lot tome to have peer mentors that I can explore hard topics with. Outside of the research lab, we give each other suggestions of classes to take and jobs to apply to.

Librarians Meghan Sitar and Justin Schell serve as our lab supervisors and our more traditional mentors. In the fuzzy front end of things, they have been instrumental in guiding us through their knowledge of the field and their research process and assuring us that we are in fact on track. They have helpful suggestions for us, but I’ve never felt as though they are taking control of the project—they work very hard to cultivate a sense of partnership in our lab. They have also provided a list of conferences that we can look atto present our work next semester.

I’m excited to keep working with all of these mentors on this project! As we move away from the fuzzy front end and into a more defined stage of the project, I know I’ll have a wonderful team to learn from and lean on.

Caroline Wack graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in American Studies in 2015. After two years working at a telecommunications law firm, she decided to get her master’s degree in Information Science from the University of Michigan. In addition to her work in the design thinking lab, she has participated in the Global Information Engagement Program in South Africa; worked at a dental museum and a business library; and received an internship grant to create an archival plan for Detroit’s Heidelberg Project. Her interests are community engagement, UX in libraries, and makerspaces.