Linda Longley

East Melbourne Library, Victoria, Australia

Linda took the opportunity of a partial library refurbishment project to use our Observation Research training to look at the way her customers were using the library. Everyone thought they knew what was going on but the results were surprising, revealing patters of conflict of customer activities, nobody lingering to look at displays and lack of interaction with staff. These results became important drivers in planning the refurbishment of the key areas.

Linda says:

“Working in the library space, staff can often go through the motions and continue activities without applied mental engagement. If we can hop outside ourselves and view situations from other perspectives, we can identify how someone else is experiencing the space. It’s often the customer view which gets missed in library refurbishments.” 

Linda and her staff team used structured observation research techniques and meticulous recording of their results to observe the way visitors used the physical space.  The project included taking photographs of specific areas and observed barriers. One key finding they made was that the layout did not accommodate the different ways that people wanted to use the library. People who wanted to study and people who wanted to chat had to use the same cramped space, making everyone uncomfortable.  Other observations revealed that the layout did not make browsing easy. It became clear that clutter and large information desks were creating formidable barriers, making it hard for staff to interact with customers and making the whole library appear uninviting.

Linda says:

“When it came time to meet with the design team, not only did we have a refined document with clear objectives for them to start with, I had a team of staff who were fully invested and even passionate about the project. Everyone in the group felt that they had weight and the architects knew clearly what our issues were and what we were trying to achieve with the refurbishment.”

Once the refurbishment was complete, Linda found that work flow routines needed to be changed to fit with the new layout and that some of the signage needed a rethink.  Customers reacted with huge praise for the new layout and appreciation for the staff, who are much more available to chat. Loans from magazines and reader-centred displays have increased.  

Click on the photos below to see the difference that a customer-centred refurbishment has made to the space.

If you want to know more, you can email Linda at


First impression before

“First impression as you walked into the building was staff workspace. Staff very often had their back to customers.”

First impression after

“What I love best is the sense of uncluttered space where it’s easy to navigate where you want to go without visual or physical obstruction.”

“Displays can be given a prominent space in high traffic areas. This is our quick choice display.”

Service model before

“Large desk forming a barrier between customer and staff, lots of clutter, line of sight to item return processing, crates to other branches, staff papers & folders.  Staff tended to stay behind the counter instead of circulating in the space.  Customers had to approach staff in a formalised way.“

Service model after

“The new staff pods are much less of a barrier between the customer and the staff member. Customers feel like they can sit down and chat to staff freely and comfortably.”

Seating area before

“With small crowded reading tables with very heavy chairs, people were having to use devices, study, write and read on top of one another which caused conflict if one activity disrupted the other.”  

Seating area after

“On the right we have comfortable single seating reading chairs with displays and on the left you will notice a large 10 seater community table where people can use laptops, read, write or do crosswords etc.”


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