In Pursuit of Library Elegance

John Blyberg, Darien Library

Erica Reynolds, Johnson County Public Library, Johnson County, KS

Based on book “In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas have something missing” Matthew May.

The book spoke to Erica about how design could be done better.

Overall thought: Elegance & excellent solutions: when design works really well, you never notice it. Precious little resources left to libraries; we’d love to stomp all over our problems. If anything, we should subtract, take away. Author, Matthew May is a Toyota consultant.


What is elegant?

1. symmetry: simple rules create effective order.

  • Look @ nature
  • math: the more complex a solution, the more easier it is to be wrong.
  • Circ rules??
  • Jackson Pollock painting; Richard Taylor analyzed Pollock paintings, realized he was painting fractals, which aren’t discovered until 1975. This is nature. It’s not random. That’s why Pollock’s are so appealing.

2. seduction: by limiting information, it creates intrigue

  • people that love libraries — that curiosity, that ever-searching need for information.
  • How can libraries building upon curiosity?
  • Build system that plays on people’s curiosity

3. Subtraction: by subtracting we create value and have more impact

  • E vs. not full E
  • restraint and removal can increase impact and value
  • using people’s minds by restraining
  • What can be done to library spaces?
  • people who come in are smart and want to use their brains
  • why put up signs everywhere!
  • Quote: “Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub. It is the centre hole….”

4. Sustainability: is it sustainable over time?

  • What can be repeated over time and be successful?
  • limited resources spark creativity and innovation
  • clay pot innovation story

The creative tension at the center of elegance: achieving the maximum effect with the minimum effort. We should relax.


Example equation: XI + I = X WRONG (how many moves to make correct?)

X + I = XI OR IX + I=X (1 move) OR turn upside down (no moves)

We don’t turn things upside down. We immediately start wanting to mess with it. What is possible, optimal.

Maybe instead: Do Nothing.

Relaxing your mind. Letting the solutions come to you.

Ideas that came while relaxing

  • Archimedes’ discovered volume displacement during a bath.
  • Einstein’s theory of pseical relativity came to him while daydreaming
  • Philo Farnsworth was plowing in a field when the rows and lines gave him the idea for the first TV
  • Richard Feynman was watching someone throw a plate when his theory of quantum electrodynamics was sparked
  • JK Rowling — Harry Potter character came to her on a train.

The path to elegance:

  • Reist the urge to act or add
  • Observe
  • Ensure a diversity of opinions and expertise are heard when you are considering what’s possible and how to get there.
  • Carve out time to think and time not to think
  • Get away from your devices
  • Get some sleep
  • Get outside

Do these things

  • Don’t feel guilty about stepping away.
  • Run on a beach
  • Go fishing
  • Play in the sand
  • Jump in mud puddles and scream your head off
  • Contemplate a fountain

Take away

  1. Read this book.
  2. Get out of the office.
  3. Play with kids.

Presentation from John Blyberg (Just pulling snippets of thoughts from his)

  • The quiet stir of thought (what the computer can’t do) from 1969
  • Libraries about curating experiences, not just materials
  • Mortar front for our networks
  • Redirecting resources from backroom to frontline staff (automated delivery services)
  • Shouldn’t do everything for everyone
  • iPhone comes without a manual. people freaked out, and yet survived
  • Signs: if you see signs everywhere when you walk into the library, there’s a problem
  • Signs are a bandaid
  • Idea: Touchscreen — interactive signs; give them the intrigue to discover something
  • Instant gratification; mobile.
  • Empowering you. How can libraries empower their patrons?
  • Different platforms for exploration. Microsoft Surface table. No explanation put out for what it was. Kids were curious and explored. Users governed how it worked.
  • Art gallery. playing chess. video game party (video games, set of rules, framework, discovery, solving problems)
  • occasionally people come into the library to study
  • users bring in own equipment; providing space for them.