In the 21st century, public library systems find themselves at a crossroads. For decades, libraries have been defined as gatekeepers of knowledge, stereotyped as dusty, book-filled places where you’re more likely to be shushed than connect with your community. In fact, today’s libraries are just as likely to be bright & friendly, gateways to knowledge, community, and personal growth and buzzing with people of all-ages, backgrounds, and interests. Think coworking spaces were invented by tech companies? Libraries pioneered that concept more than a century ago.
With new leadership and a fresh strategic plan created with the input of dozens of community conversations – Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library (EVPL) needed a new brand and website to fully express their new identity, building on the nostalgia of the past while offering a platform (and megaphone) for their vision of the library of the future, one that doesn’t just anchor a community, but raises the sails for all individuals. Our approach, focused on human-centered design, aligned perfectly with their focus on serving the needs of their entire community.
From the beginning, our human-centered branding process was inclusive. We planned a week of creative sessions with key stakeholders, mixed with field research and interviews at each EVPL location – eight in total. We met & interviewed staff, documented the physical spaces and communities unique to each location, and left behind staff and public-focused activities (graffiti walls, diary studies, suggestion boxes) to ensure that internal and external audiences would not only drive the process – but be heard the entire way!
This research informed our insights & recommendations based on four primary ways patrons experience EVPL – through learning, escaping, entertaining, and bonding. Each use type outlined recommendations and challenges – for patrons and staff – that coalesced around three opportunity spaces for the new brand: unify purpose, celebrate individuality, and spark curiosity.
These embraced the new mission statement created next: “We cultivate curiosity by creating wonder.” The brand’s visual juxtaposition of minimalist framing with maximum possibility served as a metaphor for EVPL as a true community gateway – a viewfinder that could represent infinite opportunities and inspiration, or embrace visuals that speak to community-relevant themes. By breaking the frame, we also spoke to EVPL’s ambitious organizational structure – one of the first library systems in the country to hire staff to champion specific community initiatives (wellness, performing arts, etc.).
This expansive, future-focused brand mindset extended into website planning. Early in our inclusive design process, we landed on a sitemap that leveraged thematic brand elements to reintroduce EVPL to current, former, and future users. No longer would the homepage be a “yard sale” of links – instead, inspired by emotionally resonant actions, people could discover (learn something new!), explore (go deep! see everything EVPL offers!), or connect (the places and faces that embody the library!) with EVPL.
The design aesthetic upholds these themes – using white space and splashes of vibrant color and photography to uplift, inspire, and showcase the breadth of EVPL’s materials, services, initiatives, and staff. Library catalog systems are notoriously user-unfriendly, so the new EVPL site is built alongside their multiple catalogs (knowing that things might change as the industry continues to shift). This allows them to showcase curated materials in a visual, filtered, Netflix-inspired queue, then sending users directly to the item and type of their choice.
We also integrated their programs, events, and meeting reservation systems seamlessly into the website system, so that users could still access all the site has to offer. Best of all, the site was built with maximum flexibility – allowing EVPL to update virtually all content and elements within the site in a user-friendly way, with plenty of unique spaces to promote timely content, from customizable menus to robust, customizable sidebar options.
We can’t wait to see how EVPL’s site grows alongside the library and community – check it out for yourself at evpl.org!