2008 National Forum: Using Library Labs to Shorten Service Lifecycle

Libraries expend a majority their limited human and financial resources to bring new products and services to their customers. However, libraries STILL have the tendency to wait until these products or services are ‘prefect’ ready before they are officially released. The rapid change in technology and the pressures of external ‘competition’ is requiring libraries to shorten their service lifecycles.

The number of libraries discussing the concepts of agile development, perpetual beta, and rapid prototyping is encouraging. The one thing that all of these approaches have in common is including customers as active participants in the development and/or testing of new products and services.

To that end, a growing number of libraries have been building “Library Labs,” which are based on the Google Labs concept.

This approach to service development was discussed in the presentation “Building a Web-Based Laboratory for Library Users” by Jason J. Battles and Joseph (Jody) Combs.

The project started out at Vanderbilt, but was replicated at Alabama when Jason took a position there. The Vanderbilt University’s Test Pilot site was launched July 2006. The University of Alabama’s Web Laboratory went live in November 2007.

A Library Lab creates an environment for users to experiment with new services. It is a showcase for projects under development or consideration. There is really no limit to what can be put on the site, nor is it limited to just technology solutions.

Jason and Jody emphasized the marketing potential of a Lab site and how it can be used to publicize the existence of new products and services and to demonstrate how they are useful. Their services provide feedback links on both the Lab pages and on the prototype pages as an easy way to gather, store and search user feedback and to solicit suggestions for new services.  Their Lab services are also used to identify and recruit for usability studies and focus groups.

They also reiterated several times that a Library Lab allows academic libraries to introduce new services at any time, not just during the three week window between semesters or when the services are ‘perfected.’

In short, the creation of a Library Lab allows a library to invest just enough resources to see if the idea is worth investing in. It also allows a library to let go of unused services in a dignified manner.


  1. Ken Varnum

    I maintain a directory of library labs at my blog: http://www.rss4lib.com/library-labs.html

  2. eschnell

    Thanks, Ken! I refer to your list frequently.

    Of course, we also want out services to be ‘Perfect” not ‘prefect’ . ..

Comments are closed.