Keynote: Hacking Library Spaces: Lessons From Tactical Urbanism

Mike Lydon, Principal, The Street Plans Collaborative and & Author, Tactical Urbanism

@MikeLydon @StreetPlans

Street Plans based in Miami and Brooklyn: methodology to hack the city. Do a lot of bike and pedestrian planning. Urban design. Policy development. Education and training. Placemaking.

Share Knowledge + Advocate for Better Cities — firm publishes and shares work online

His work was inspired by open streets… Seeing challenge in people not being willing to go to public meetings. Became involved in advocacy for biking, and involved in open streets: streets used for walking, biking, dancing, etc., and Bike Miami Days — changed how he thought about sharing ideas, inspiring people, advocating.

At same time, NYC was hacking its streets: Temporary “Pilot” Plazas — temporary paint, movable planters, different public spaces, projects in the streets. Giving streets back to people to hang out, eat, etc. “As inexpensive hacks, tactical interventions producing great affects, we here at FASLANYC greatly admire them, esp because they are no longer….” –Brian Davis

Cities becoming more participatory — leading to longterm change in policy and physical changes. Tactical Urbainsim and Tactical Urbanism2 — — Blew up — was shared widely by thousands.

Method for sharing — putting ideas online — brought this idea to a global stage. Downloaded around the world in many countries.

Tactical urbanism become a global movement owned by no one, that can involve anyone, and that is intended to improve the lives of everyone.

Tactical Urbanism: city, org and/or citizen-led approach to neighborhood building using short term, low-cost, and scalable interventions intended to catalyze long-term change.

Yarn bombing: DIY? Yes. Hacking? Maybe. Tactical? No.

It’s not just…hipsters. It’s for neighborhoods. Getting all generations to come out and make change together. Newsboards, Little Free Libraries, creating places that are communal in our neighborhoods.

Tactics & Tacticians–Movement from Unsanctioned to Sanctioned. People just going out and doing things without permission.

Three Overlapping Trends: The Great Recession & Shifting Demographics & The Internet as a Tool for Building the Civic Economy

The Great Inversion and the future of the American City

Growing Frustration: Roadblocks at Every Turn, as people are moving back into the city. Amenities not there that people like. Laws, ordinances, and rules that are blocking things from happening. Guerilla

City vs Citizens and the Widening Gap Between What we Have and What We Want — Guerrilla crosswalk painter. Tension between citizens and city leaders.

Guerrilla stripers add bike lanes…

But this isn’t a new idea. Boxes on the river in Paris, pop up in the morning and become stands. Help activate the river. Took 500 years for this to be sanctioned.

Food trucks vs real restaurants. Play streets concept. Portable Parks in 1970 in San Francisco. Zoo animals at a temporary park on an off ramp by a freeway.

Strategy without Tactics: Midtown Plan (1969). Transform Broadway street… But nothing ever happened with the plan. Until 2009: Times Square closed to traffic, just for the weekend. Set up lawn chairs (for $10 from hardware stores). People sat down and started using the chairs. 2010: Times Square put paint on ground, tables and chairs, and measure the impact. Economy exploded and became a much safer street.

Times Square Lights Up City’s Economy, Study Finds

Pedestrian traffic increased; sales increased. Safer streets.

Now, Times Square reinventing itself permanently:

Mayor Bloomberg Cuts Ribbon on First Phase of Permanent Times Square Reconstruction

Idea: Build, (project) Measure (data), Learn (ideas) cycle; try something, learn from failures and build on it. Ideas come from Lean Startup

We need strategy and tactics: …it is about getting it right for now and at the same time being tactical and strategic about later….and about disturbing the order of things in the interests of change. –Nabeel Hamdi, author of about the art of practice and the limits of planning in cities.


1. Citizens unsanctioned citizen action

DIY crosswalk; “Dear crosswalk vigilante — thank you! made my day”

Guerrilla crosswalk turns into total overhaul of New Haven intersection — this guy showed leadership in his community and was elected to city council!

Walk [Your city] — few people were walking in a walkable neighborhood. Signs to make people walk in the community. City council had him take the signs down and then voted to make them

Good projects go to scale and spread.

2. Municipality/Organization: Public Involvement Through Collaborative Demonstration

Students: Pop-up Rockwell — two way bike path. Learned that bike traffic increased. People went to different businesses, we’re going to just try this, pilot, got buy-in and permission. Failure was also involved — most valuable. Some of the intersection design wasn’t as strong as it should be. Realized the flaws in 1 week, and integrated those findings into the permanent infrastructure.

Coalition: Park-Making in Miami, FL — parking lot overtaken with temporary materials and changed it into a park, with a coalition of groups. Became a very active space for a week. Changed the conversation for

3. Municipality/Developer: Phase 0 Implementation

Project in Brooklyn, near Manhattan Bridge: retail sales up 172% vs 18% across Brooklyn. Food truck pod; and outdoor plaza in a parking lot. Project will be made permanent, and will be expanding. Political will and support built using temporary first.

City + BID + Artists — murals to replace ugly paint.

Hired by cities AND agitators 🙂


1. Working from the Outside In: Hamilton, Ontario

2. Enhancing Public Involvement – Somerville, MA

  • Too much surface parking; neighborhood needed to grow, but not up
  • Davis Square Streetscape Plan (2012)
  • People didn’t want change; showed up at the meeting in protest
  • Go test the Streetscape Plan into the planning process using tactical urbanism
  • Somerville Design presents 3-day pop-up plaza and make a parking lot into a plaza.
  • Very active space — street performers, musicians.
  • Comment box
  • Space active long into the night. People sitting on the asphalt just hanging out.
  • Brought a lot of people to the table for the planning process.
  • “Make this plaza permanent”
  • People were shown the possibilities
  • City is moving to test out a food truck, tables and chairs and incrementally bring space change about.

3. “Phase 0” Implementation — Penrith, Australia

  • underutilized section of asphalt — street
  • transform the space into a park — not much traffic on that street
  • laid out the process for this to happen; convinced city council to go along with this.
  • City committed $40,000 to try the park idea out and then if successful, would make it permanent
  • workshopped ideas; people into 3 teams with 10,000 to spend; 10,000 left to integrate the 3 teams together
  • Sketched to scale where things would go.
  • Kit of parks — materials to be used — and prices figured out.
  • Space sketched out
  • City excited — and within a month of the workshop, the space was transformed. Fence opened up. Much more welcoming environment.
  • Collaboration across government; an iterative process…
  • Businesses started to put out pots and plants.

This all reminds me of these projects:

What does this have to do with libraries?

  • Search “Library” in Google Images — stereotypes of what people think of libraries. But it’s not what libraries are about. People aren’t understanding the role libraries can place in communities as third places.
  • Salt Lake City Public Library — programming in retail spaces…
  • Open up library spaces
  • Streets and public services
  • “I think of the city not as opposite to the Internet, but as absolutely like it. In a sense, it is the original Internet, the original hyperlink since cities are places in which random connections, rather than linear order, often determines what will happen.” –Paul Goldberger, 2001
  • He’s become aware of projects because of web tools and the Internet
  • “If the city is the original internet, then the library is its server”
  • Tactical information delivery

5 Ideas for Libraries

  1. Embed Tactical Urbanism into information delivery process
  2. pilot test public engagement ideas/tools
  3. focus on placemaking, improve the interface between library, city, and citizen
  4. use existing initiatives + Find Multipliers
  5. Scale Down to Scale Up — start small, make impact, then project further.

In Pursuit of Library Elegance (KLA version)

I enjoyed this session so much at Computers in Libraries when Erica gave the presentation in DC, I came back for more at KLA! (You might want to read those notes first; my notes here may not give a complete recap, as this was the second time I’ve heard the presentation).

Presentation was given by Erica Reynolds and Matt Sapp (Johnson County Library system).

The book is “In Pursuit of Elegance: Why The Best Ideas Have Something Missing” by Matthew E. May

Speaks so much to where libraries are at right now. We hope for change….

“Because without a new way of viewing the world we will most assuredly succumb to employing the same kinds of thinking that created so many of our problems in the first place….” — Matthew May

“Because by nature we tend to add when we should subtract, and act when we should stop and think.” –Matthew May

Four key points in the book:

  1. Symmetry
  2. Seduction
  3. Subtraction
  4. Sustainability

Real power in his book and ideas are how to all these ideas relate and what do they mean and how can we come up with solutions.

This presentation is one big book talk and readers’ advisory

1. Symmetry:

Simple rules create effective order:

in libraries: circ rules. Streamline guidelines. John Wooden, fewer and fewer rules and nice guidelines. Rules should be simple and concrete and work across the system. “Rule ourselves to death”

Jackson Pollack painting. Richard Taylor, physicist. Analyzed Pollack’s paintings and found they were fractals. Pollack was painting in 1955. Fractals were discovered in 1975. Somehow Pollack was able to observe nature and paint what nature is, before the pattern was even discovered. Maybe that’s why pollack’s paintings are so attractive and appealing. He is painting nature, very much like treebrances move in wind.

How can we mirror that in libraries? Equations. E=mc(squared).

Just because something is complex, doesn’t mean it’s not elegant. Simple rules.

2. Seduction: Curiosity. What makes us want to dig in and learn more?

Venus Rising from the sea–a deception painting.

Libraries strive to serve curiosity. Reader’s Advisory displays to attract curious readers, to whet appetite to make people want to read or research more.

Limiting information creates intrigue. May doesn’t just say be seductive, he talks about how to do it. Give patrons just enough information to make them come back for more. Not overload them with information, kill them with information.

3. Subtraction: restraint and removal can increase impact and value. Picture of the letter E that’s not completed.

Work of Dutch Traffic Engineer Hans Monderman: there’s no painted lines, no street signs, no signs. To make traffic flow better in a busy intersection, he took out all traffic control. 20,000 people go through intersection each day, including bicyclists, pedestrians, cars. Fatalities significantly dropped.

When you take away things that told you what to do, you have to engage your brain. Should you go? Hit someone? Have to think.

Build library spaces — what do we need to take away that magically adds value and impact? (Learning Commons, Signs, Weeding, Desks?)

Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub,
It is the centre hole that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room,
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there,
Usefulness from what is not there.

-??, Chinese proverb (missed the name)

4. Sustainability. What works across multiple libraries? We can’t work all 70 hrs a week.

Limited resources spark creativity and innovation.

Mohammed Bah Abba’s Pot within a pot cooking system. Nigeria. Food quickly spoiled. Lots of waste. Trying to sell products, disease happening. Girls had no time to go to school. Unsafe to be walking to market. Financial hardship.

The answer is refrigeration. But in Nigeria, couldn’t afford refrigeration and didn’t have electricity.

Had to build solution that required no electricity and would be simple to use and used local materials.

He created pots within pots. Filled the outer pot with wet river sand and covered it with a cloth. It was so hot, the heat would pull the moisture into the inner pot and cool the food enough for it to stay safe for weeks.

Girls go to school now. Disease dropped.

Made with: Clay. Sand. Cloth. Water.

How can hard times situation make libraries even better?

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

How do you get to an elegant solution? What is optimal.

XI + I = X (which is wrong)

X + I = XI

IX + I = X

or ???

Moving one stick makes it correct. But is this optimal?

Flip over XI + I = X and it becomes X = I + IX. Happened in Zero moves. Just had to change perspective.

Thinking outside the box. First thing after seeing a problem, is don’t act. Observe and figure out what’s optimal, not what’s doable.

So many times in libraries, we think about what’s doable, not what’s optimal.

Don’t ask: What should we do?

Ask: What’s possible? What’s optimal? [Library eBooks???]

The really brilliant solution looks obvious in retrospect, but to get to it is difficult.

Key is getting out and enjoying your lives. We’re not going to come up with great ideas if we constantly work and never take breaks (comment: I saw a friend comment last night on Facebook about having writer’s block, going to the gym, and having two major breakthroughs in her research!)

Ideas come when working in gardens or on a walk.

The path to elegance:

  • resist 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 to not think.
  • Get away from your devices.
  • Get some sleep
  • Get outside

Path isn’t to add more signs to a library….

If you’re always on a device, not giving brain time to relax and rest.


  • Archimedes’ discovered volume displacement during a bath
  • Einstein’s theory of special relativity came to him while daydreaming
  • Philo Farnsworth: first television while plowing
  • Richard Feynman – throwing a plate, theory of quantum electrodynamics.
  • JK Rowling was traveling on a train when the character Harry potter flashed in her mind.

We have to do the research, we have to read and do the work, but we should also rest.

Sit and not do anything. Watch a waterfall. Jump in mud puddles.

Specific elegant examples from Matt now about what JoCo Library is doing.

Public Computers

Want the Public computers to just work. All the time. Locking down worked, but when new technology and software came out, computers didn’t work anymore. Tax season. Silverlight. Flash. Pushing out updates, weren’t working. So they asked, why lock them down then?

So they stopped locking down the computers. (LOVE THIS — our approach at NEKLS already to library computers; DeepFreeze ’em, but not many other security settings!)

Service Desks at the branches

Information Services, youth desks, Circulation desks were separate.

Now, consolidating desks together. information services staff now roam. Patrons happier having needs met, and less staff needed. Roaming reference with iPads. Staff interacting more with patrons, learning more. Are able to do more with less staff due to funding cuts.

Self-check rename

Self-check stations vs. checkout names rename. Patrons don’t want to do it themselves, just by changing the name they now do it themselves. Hide the circ clerk games. Ha!

IT help desk

Help desk tickets weren’t standardized. Now, everything has to be emailed. One path, so people don’t lose tickets or go on vacation. Emergencies can still be called (how do you enforce this? If someone calls, it’s not important, do you say politely, please email that to the help desk?)

Communication improvements

New phone system installed. Do we just replace the phones? Or make major improvements to everything. Single phone number for whole system now. Upset patrons at first, because they couldn’t call their local library. By centralizing everything, phone calls were better dealt with and branches could better deal with in-person patrons, not answering the phones. Still struggling with this situation — too many phone calls.

Backroom circulation efficiences

Every branch is currently different. Consolidating processes and finding symmetry in the processes. This is in process.

Kids PCs area

some adults/teens still use that space. make it obvious that it’s a children’s section (different types of chairs, colors, etc.)

Other Ideas/Comments from the audience

Darien Library: does have a brand-new building and lots of money.

  • Bought a Surface. No rules set. No instructions. Kids just figured it out.
  • Concierge Desk, not circulation desk.
  • Reference desk is a table with a computer. Both at the table together at same level.

informal RA on badges.

Signs get a due date for community postings.

iPhone came with no manual. People still used it.

Bookdrop was blank and library had weird hours. Library hours were sprayed onto the bookdrop.

Libraries undercut easy solutions.

Library Swaps like Trading Spaces or House Swap — maybe this needs to happen!

No meeting room available in one library. So the kids room had shelving on wheels, and it would be moved out of the room while the programming would go on.

Weeding makes shelves useable. No one wants to read old moldy books. You now know your collection.

Graphic novel collection wasn’t circulating at a college library. Swung couch around so the books could be seen at a different angle and the books were suddenly seen and flew off the shelves.

Library spaces. Right design for spaces not always seen. What people see and what they don’t see.

Better utilize space just by adding windows, and adding shelves. Home locations vs. floating collections

End comment: I’m starting to read the book this week. I highly recommend it already! Erica did a pretty good job of convincing both audiences in Topeka and DC to read the book. Anyone else read it, starting to read it, or going to read it? And Erica, you should do more booktalks 🙂

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.