Design Research and Visual Literacy

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Cecil Beaton Scrapbook

At the FIT Library we collect facsimile editions of designers and artist’s notebooks, to provide examples of the creative research process. One of my favorites would have to be the reprint of Cecil Beaton’s scrapbooks.

The designer and the scientist have a lot more in common as researchers than most people might think. Design research involves observation, note-taking, collecting samples, categorizing & recognizing patterns, and experimenting with materials.

Of course, there are marked differences between the scientist and the designer as researchers, too. There is no rigorous, codified “method” for all designers or artists, who have greater liberty than scientists to come up with their own approaches. Design research is also much more heavily reliant on access to visual resources than scientific research. Moreover, there are many in the design fields who eschew what they refer to as “scientism” in the design research process (see this Atlantic article for more on that topic)

Jane Goodall's Field Notebook - 1961

Jane Goodall’s Field Notebook – 1961

But just like Jane Goodall among the chimpanzees (don’t laugh), designers conducting research need to be keen observers and collectors of raw information if they are to make new design discoveries. Design researchers, like scientists, are mostly engaged with primary research and primary sources are preferred. Some of the ways that we support this type of primary research at the Fashion Institute of Technology library is by providing students access to fabrics and materials, designer “look books,” and services/publications which visually document design trends.

There are many reasons a designer might also turn to secondary sources. For example, a fashion designer who is tuned-in to a nostalgic cultural trend may want to access fashion magazines from a particular decade or books about a particular era. Even so, she is looking at these materials from a different perspective than, say, a costume historian who may have more of a need for the textual/contextual information associated with the images. At FIT we see this type of researcher frequently, especially in our visually rich Art Reference collection and Periodicals collection (which has significant historical depth).

Recently, there have been a couple of good articles in the popular press about the creative process and design research. One which caught my eye in particular appeared in the Wall Street Journal this past winter. The article and accompanying photo essay covers the designer, Thakoon, as he develops his Fall 2014 collection. Another article, which appeared on Fast Company’s web site this past spring, explores how the analysis of a single photograph can influence the design direction of taken by the design company, Frog.

Graphic from Wall Street Journal article on Thakoon

Graphic from Wall Street Journal article on Thakoon

Visual Literacy and the design researcher

In 2011 the Association of College and Research Libraries published the Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. These competency standards were written in response to the rise of visual culture and were meant to be applicable to all disciplines. All of the conference discussions on these standards that I have attended have either focused on how librarians can become more visually literate for communication and pedagogical purposes, or on how to improve visual literacy in fields where visual research is generally lacking. Oddly, there has not been anything on visual literacy for art or design students.

Just because design students are generally visual thinkers and do highly visual design research, does not necessarily mean they are more visually literate than other students. My guess is that Visual Literacy Competency Standards 1 (determining need), 3 (interpreting and analyzing), 4 (evaluating) 5 (using effectively) and 6 (designing and creating) may come a little more easily to them, than to an English major, for instance. However, with regard to the remaining competencies, they actually may be at a disadvantage to other students, as visual thinkers in a very textual world.

For example, they are often required to find visual materials using text-based searches and systems. One popular library workshop exercise for design students is to get them thinking verbally about their topics by having them produce concept maps. Another technique that can easily be employed by design professors or librarians is for students to work together to develop tagging taxonomies for their Flickr, Instagram or Tumblr accounts as part of a work assignment for a class. Both of these exercises can help students develop effective search vocabularies for use on the Web and in library databases and catalogs, thus working toward Competency Standard 2 (find efficiently).

The Rape of Africa by David LaChapelle is clearly referencing Botticelli's Venus and Mars

The Rape of Africa by David LaChapelle is clearly referencing Botticelli’s Venus and Mars

Another clear pitfall for many design (and fine arts) students is Standard 7 (understand ethical & legal aspects). Honestly, I hardly think they are alone in this matter, but there are two things that might make this competency a little harder for them:

  1. There is no tradition of citing sources in the applied or fine arts (with some exceptions).
  2. Visual references and mimicry are almost as revered as originality (so long as no one important loses any money).

At FIT I almost always incorporate the topics of copyright and fair use of images when conducting library workshops for design students. However, I sometimes think it would be better to thoroughly educate myself first and then teach the teachers. The classroom faculty are the ones with the greatest influence on student practice, as they are the ones who directly critique student work. With this in mind, I am currently working with FIT’s Center for Excellence in Teaching to put together a three hour workshop this fall aimed exclusively at our Art and Design school faculty. Wish me luck.



Binkley, Christina. “How Thakoon Created Fall 2014 Collection.” Wall Street Journal 6 Feb. 2014. Wall Street Journal. Web. 21 June 2014.

Danziger, James. Cecil Beaton: The Art of the Scrapbook. Slp edition. New York: Assouline Publishing, 2010. Print.

Freach, Jon. “How To Draw Critical Design Insights From A Single Photograph: Lessons From Frog.” Co.Design. N. p., n.d. Web. 22 June 2014.
LaChapelle, David. Rape of Africa. N. p., 2009. Print.
McAllister, Ben. “The ‘Science’ of Good Design: A Dangerous Idea.” The Atlantic 11 May 2011. Web. 21 June 2014.
Washington, National Geographic Society P. O. Box 98199, Dc 20090-8199 Usa 38.90531943278526, and -77 0376992225647 800-647-5463. “Being Jane Goodall – Photo Gallery – National Geographic Magazine.” N. p., n.d. Web. 21 June 2014.

Vote March 30 – April 6

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What kind of change do you want to see in your neighborhood? You can decide how to spend $1 million dollars in our community. Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community residents directly decide how to spend public dollars. Council Member Stephen Levin’s District 33 is part of PB in New York City. Visit for voting locations and more information. Anyone who is age 16 and above and lives in Council District 33 is eligible to vote. Not sure what council district you live in? You can put in your address here to find out.

You can vote for up to five projects that will benefit our community, including the BOOKlyn Shuttle.

The mission of the BOOKlyn SHUTTLE is to inspire, stimulate and improve the literacy of North Brooklyn’s youth. It aims to cultivate a vibrant community of active learners who share a lifelong love of reading, introducing new and exploratory pathways toward success and opportunity.


Voting Locations and Times

Sunday 3/30 McGolrick Park Farmers Market, 11am-4pm Monday 3/31 PS 157, 8:15-10am | Greenpoint Public Library, 10am-6pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm Tuesday 4/1 Greenpoint Public Library, 10am-6pm | PS157, 4-6pm | Polish Slavic Center, 5-7pm | Jonathan Williams Plaza, 12-5pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm Wednesday 4/2 Greenpoint Public Library, 1-8pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm | PS 110, 8-9:30am | Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, 2-7pm Thursday 4/3 Greenpoint Public Library, 1-8pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm | PS110, 8-9:30am & 2-7:30pm Friday 4/4 Greenpoint Public Library, 10am-6pm | District Office, 10am-6pm | Cadman Towers, 9am-3pm | PS8, 8-10am | PS16, 8-10am Saturday 4/5 Berry Street Houses, 10am-4pm | Gowanus Houses, 12-5pm | East River Park-Brooklyn Flea, 10am-5pm | PS16, 9am-1pm | McCarren Park Farmers Market, 8am-2pm | Greenpoint Public Library, 10am-5pm Sunday 4/6 Wyckoff Gardens, 12-5pm | Independence Towers, 12-5pm | McGolrick Park Farmers Market, 11am-4pm

Volunteer with the North Brooklyn Bookmobile

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For the past year and a half I have been working with an organization in North Brooklyn called St Nick’s Alliance to create a book bus. With the area having the highest child poverty rate in the city, we have decided to focus on literacy as a community building tool. It began with the findings of a 20 year study by Mariah Evans, which “showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education).” So how do we get 500 books into the homes of our kids? How do we create a culture of reading?

After countless focus groups, community meetings, input from parents and of course, kids, we decided to launch a community bookmobile. Graduate students at Pratt spent a year designing the bus and we have been promoting it at community events including GoGreen, Williamsburg Walks, and Grand Street Walks, as well as professional groups such as Tristate League of Professionals (connected with Pratt facilities department).   We’ve also engaged pro bono assistance with branding and logo development and ramped up our fundraising capacity. And now we need The Desk Set!

In addition to a hybrid library design, we have plans to include programming and parent outreach. With the design of the bus, we hope to have story times, crafts, readers advisory, literacy tips for parents, and more. Everyone working on this project has agreed that it is absolutely key to have librarians involved. If you are interested in being part of this community project in any way, please contact me at kerry.roeder [a]  You can also read more about the project, here in Greenline.

A Passion for Programming

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So programming.

Programming is probably the number one reason I wanted to work with teens. (Except for maybe also the YA books. Ok, mostly it was the books.) Aside from the fact that I pretty much have the same taste in music/tv as a teenager; being able to plan awesome programs around things that they and I are interested in, is a dream come true for me work-wise.

Secretly I think I’ve always wanted to be an event planner. I actually looked into it once. I was thinking…maybe there is some school somewhere with a magical train that takes you to a castle inaccessible to Muggles where I could learn to use the magic of event planning…no wait, sorry, wrong fantasy.

No but seriously; I have watched The Wedding Planner way too many times to not want to be an obsessive control freak who throws amazing parties and events that are highly attended. (Because obviously, the obsessive controlling event planner always gets the guy right?) This secret desire to plan everything translates for me into a passion for programming.

So lets talk programming.

I’ll be honest and let you in on a secret; Pinterest is my crutch. I’ve been on the site since it was in beta and always go back to it when I’m stumped (or bored). I get most of my craft ideas there. And if I don’t see them in Pinterest, usually I find a craft blog through my Pinterest searches and from there find other craft ideas to pin. It’s a vicious cycle.

Several months ago I saw this post from Ps. I Made This.. about making chocolate bling. Who doesn’t like to make things they can eat while they craft? Plus, there’s glitter involved so I knew it had to be a hit. This was my first idea for my summer craft series. I grabbed it and ran with it. I dusted off my funky Ikea ice cube trays and rolled out to my local craft store.

And now the moment when I tell you my cardinal rule when it comes to crafts: “Always perform a test run.” (This is coming from a professional procrastinator by the way.) On my first try I bought the wrong kind of edible glitter and couldn’t find any of extra the molds I wanted. After that I wised up and found a specialty chocolate making supply store near the library.

There I found the brand of glitter recommended in the instructions as well as the jewel molds and some awesome mustache lollipop molds I knew my teens would love.  (My new motto is “If you put a mustache on it, they will come!”  My teens want everything with ironic hipster mustaches on it, including their duct tape.)

Valentines I handed out this year...

The owner of the store was happy to show me some techniques for using the glitter and even threw in enough free brushes for all my teens. I transformed the staff break room into a mini chocolate-making factory and commandeered the microwave and refrigerator for the afternoon.

And away we went!  Everyone got to go home with chocolate goodie bags and everyone ate at least a quarter pound of chocolate before the hour was up.

Crafts are pretty typical for teen library programs.  In the beginning it surprised me that so many teenagers wanted to do arts and crafts, even the boys come! (For the crafts obviously, not the girls. The crafts.) But honestly, who doesn’t like to learn how to make something cool? The DIY movement has swept the nation and teens are not immune.

I’m not by nature a crafty person; I like to look but when it comes to actually making something, my versions always come out childish looking and messy. I actually think that this makes even the least artsy teen comfortable at Crafternoons because they can’t be embarrassed next to my attempts.

Crafts are just the beginning.  Once you have crafts, you can go in practically any direction. Build crafts into any program theme and you have a built in ‘prize’ for your teens to take home. The best part is that they are making their prizes themselves! Crafts are also great to have on hand for bored and disruptive teens to occupy themselves with.

Looking for other teen programming ideas?

Check out the always-inspiring Teen Librarian Toolbox for tons of crafts and so much more.

Essential Personality Traits for Teen Librarians #1: Quick on your feet

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This week was so busy and I did so many things that it wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I actually realized how much I had been doing.

Summer Reading really kicked off for the teens this week with the three regular weekly programs I am running as well as a wave of teen volunteers converging on the library. I ran a program each day that I worked this week and looking back on it now, I am extremely grateful that I planned a lot of this ahead of time!

Here’s a taste of what I did this week:

  • Frantically coordinated teen volunteer schedules and tried to keep all staff members informed as to who was paired with who.
  • Re-thought and re-organized the teen summer reading logs.
  • Made reminder calls to teens signed up for programs.
  • Ran a Minecraft program that 5 new teens showed up to unexpectedly.
  • Met with teen volunteers who came to assist a storytime and gave them the lowdown on how summer reading and summer volunteering works.
  • Transformed the break room into a chocolate making lab.
  • Tested my chocolate making skills making examples for Crafternoons.
  • Got chocolate and glitter everywhere during Crafternoons.
  • Liaised with the local newspaper photographer to advertise programming.
  • Updated all social media sites and library webpage.
  • Reviewed an app for YALSA.
  • Tried my best to push adult summer reading programming on every patron I saw.
  • Cajoled patrons seeking computer help throughout the week to sign up for personal lessons from teen volunteers.
  • Readied the Children’s Room for Friday Yoga.
  • Panicked when no one showed up for Teen Yoga even though I’d confirmed 7 people the day before.
  • Breathed a sigh of relief as 4 teens showed up late to yoga and I wasn’t embarrassed in front of my new community partner.

It is really interesting to watch the community and myself adjust to Teen Summer Reading. Since we haven’t ever done this before I’ve taken to making announcements before each program to remind teens to fill out their summer reading logs and their raffle tickets. It has become a slightly annoying piece of housekeeping but it has also forced me to be more organized. And I know that as the community gets used to teen summer reading, it will soon become second nature to them like the children’s summer reading already is.

One of my teens has been a very loyal and regular patron of the library since he was a child. He is so used to doing summer reading that he registered for the children’s program as well. He mentioned that he thought the prizes for summer reading seemed a little childish and it was only then that I discovered the overlap. This moment just proved to me the power of habit and how easy it can be to maintain a program when patrons know the drill as well as how hard it can be to introduce new procedures and ideas to a loyal following.

This week also showed me how much I need to be on my toes as a Teen Librarian. There is really no such thing as being bored at work, doing paperwork, any more. I’ve had plenty of regular office jobs so I am so happy to have found another way to make a living other than simply sitting at my desk. While there seems to be a constant level of craziness going on in the background, I know that the mayhem keeps me quick on my feet and ready for anything that comes my way. And while I may secretly be freaking out about everything on the inside, this week and many others have also proved to me that no matter what, everything always turns out ok. Even if no one shows up to your program, you use that experience to learn what to do differently next time and there is always the next week to try and get it right!

‘Beneath the Surface’ of Teen Summer Reading

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Hi everyone!  My name is Jessica Schneider and I’ll be blogging for you this month!

I am a Teen Librarian working at a public library in northern New Jersey and currently trying to guide along my first ever Summer Reading program.  This is also the first Teen Summer Reading Program my library has ever tried so mostly it’s a work-in-progress.

Just a little about me:  I graduated from library school fairly recently and quickly landed a part-time gig at my current library.  Since then I’ve been surviving on two cobbled together part-time jobs and trying to keep my hand in by blogging for YALSA occasionally and now The Desk Set!  It has been interesting and I am learning a lot along the way, slowly forming opinions about what I find works with my teen population and what doesn’t.  The town I work in didn’t really have much programming for teens before I showed up.  I saw this job as an opportunity to build a program from the ground up and to really learn what being a Teen Librarian is all about.  I feel extremely lucky to have a great staff to bounce ideas off and an understanding boss who is willing to let me try pretty much anything!

Last month started a flurry of pre-Summer Reading activity.  Our local schools did not decide on a last day of school until the last minute so while we knew what we wanted to do for our Summer Reading Program, we were almost caught by surprise that it had come up so quickly.  The last three weeks have been a scramble to get everything together including a Summer Reading Kick-off Party and a completely digital registration process, which we’d never, used before.  Not to mention attending the NJLA conference which was a blast but also right in the middle of prep for the summer.  I’m still coming down from the anxiety of last month and a little anxious about how this whole thing is going to go.  So if I seem like I’m freaking out a little, just ignore me, I’ll be fine in September.

We’re going with the Collaborative Summer Reading Program theme this year, “Beneath the Surface,” which really could mean anything right?  I really appreciated the resources put together by the CSRP this year since it gave me some ideas for the direction I wanted to push my program and for the ‘reading game.’

A couple of the programs I decided to try out this summer are:

Minecraft Night (If you haven’t heard, Minecraft is awesome and you need to check it out!)

Crafternoons (the summer continuation of my weekly craft program)

A City of Bones Movie Release Party (Movie comes out August 23rd!! We’ll be celebrating in style.  Check out my pinterest board for ideas!)

And the program I think I’m most excited about:

Teen Yoga! (yoga instruction kindly donated by our local yoga studio)

Over the next month I’ll give you updates on our summer progress, my thoughts on what has worked and what hasn’t, and hopefully some helpful insights as to how Summer Reading at a small public library works!

Stay tuned and Happy 4th!

24 Hour Read In 2013

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Once again June is upon us and once again we are in the midst of the library budget fights. Each year the cuts get bigger, the threat looms larger. This year libraries in New York City face over $106 Million in cuts.

These cuts, if enacted, would force the library systems to close more than sixty community libraries, lay off more than a thousand librarians and library staff, reduce collections and programming, and continue a more that three year hiring ban on full time librarians.

Once again we are gearing up for the 24 Hour Read In for New York City Public Libraries. You can be part of it too, we are still looking for readers and volunteers.

This is very literary library activism. The premise is simple, volunteers take it in turn to read for fifteen minutes all the way around through twenty-four hours. It is a fascinating experience to be out in the city and it is the deep dark hours and the city has finally quieted down and there is this one lone voice reading some text that holds everyone together there in that tiny spot in front of that grand library.

There are still plenty of reading slots, you can sign up today.

Rare Bookin’ It, French Polychrome Binding Style

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For my second installment, I thought it might be fun to continue down the road of weird and wonderful books that have come through the doors of Ursus. For Bibliography Week, back in January, the director of Ursus put together an exhibition of 50 French polychrome bindings published between 1850 and 1930.

Polychrome bindings were the precursors to dust-jackets, used to catch a buyer’s eye and give a glimpse of the subject matter within and were especially popular with the French publishing trade. What usually comes to mind when someone thinks polychrome bindings are the famous bindings issued by the firm of Hetzel for the works of Jules Verne who was immensely popular at the time and published in very large editions, as opposed to most other titles.

The books we focused on were non-fiction titles with an emphasis in and the application of science, medicine and technology as well as volumes on travel and other miscellaneous subjects. Polychrome bindings were produced for popular consumption and were subjected to heavy use, usually resulting in being rebound. Therefore, these books presented are rare, not only because of the bindings being intact, but in the excellent and bright condition that they remain in.

Here are a few examples of some of the bindings by subject:




One of my favorite of the polychrome bindings is a three-volume medical text titled Livre d’Or de la Santé.  The third volume contains detailed and moveable illustrations of the reproductive system as well as the numerous diseases one can get from reproductive recreations. This volume has a lock and key so to keep young, prying eyes away from the graphic illustrations.

Notice the lock and key on the middle volume!

A Woman's Body with Folding Parts

Chancres (the least disgusting of the medical plates showing disease in this volume)

What is the role of the librarian in the city?

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Hey Library School Students, want to make some easy book money and get your opinion out there? Well write right now and get in the game!

This is the last call for Urban Librarians Unite’s essay contest for students pursuing a library/information sciences degree in New York City. The contest is simple, write an essay on the topic above: What is the role of the librarian in the city?

Please follow the formatting rules below and submit your essay to:

Essays must be submitted by February 15th, 2013.

The winning essay will be published here on ULU’s website along with select runners up. We highly suggest imagination and bold thoughts in essay submissions. Innovation will be one of the criteria of the judging, we want to hear about bold ideas for the future of libraries in the city.

List of rules
– All entrants must either live in New York City or attend a Library/Information Science
program at an accredited library school based in New York City.
– All entrants must be enrolled in a course of study pursuant to postgraduate education in
Library/Information Science (“Library School”)
– Essays should be  1000 – 1200 words
– Essays should be on the topic/question given for that semester only
– One essay per person, per semester
– No repeat submissions of the same essay in different semesters
– Winners may compete again in subsequent semesters
– All essays will be considered anonymously
– Please follow formatting rules
– Winning essay will be published on
– Runner up essays will be published on at the descretion of the
organization and the essay author
– Contest winners shall receive a $200 cash prize for use in purchasing books and
supplies for the pursuit of postgraduate library and information science education

Formatting Rules
– Please submit all essays as MS Word 2003 documents
– Please put your name and the name of your institution at the top of the first page of your essay
– Do not put your name in the header or footer of the essay
– Use APA formatting for the text and citations

Don’t let my students read this.

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One this last day of January, I’m thinking about what note to end upon. I’m far too much of a baby in the profession to leave with any sweeping insights about The State Of Things Today, and my particular areas of interest are narrow enough that I couldn’t do that anyways. So I’ll leave you with a few musings on what kids should (and shouldn’t, and therefore should) be reading.

Today was the second meeting of the book club I’m running with the 5th graders. At the end of the discussion I opened up the floor for the kids to suggest the next title to read together. I had to shoot down a couple of graphic novels (not ‘cause they’re not awesome, but because I don’t want to read book one of seven or thirty), and also a James Patterson novel because reasons. “The London Eye Mystery,” one of my suggestions, won by a landslide.

I did have to pull teacher-rank and veto another book without discussion, though. A kid said that he heard about one book called “ ‘400 degrees Fahrenheit’ or something,” and that it’s about the future where everyone watches TV.

After correcting the title information I told them I was vetoing that one. Not because it’s a bad book, but I explained that I read that book in high school and had a hard time understanding it, and while some of them might like it I wouldn’t want to make everybody read a book that would be too hard for a lot of them. They accepted that answer readily enough.

That was the best decision for that group, but my fingers are still crossed that one or two of the kids will find a copy of their parents bookshelf and sneak it into their room. Even if they only get a chapter or two in, or if they read the whole thing and it flies over their head, there is a special relationship between a kid and a book that they’re not supposed to be reading.

I have really clear memories of reading Stephen King’s “It” in the sixth grade. There were lots of euphemisms for body parts that I was unfamiliar with—I didn’t know if I had those parts, and if I did, where they were. There were also some other slang words relating to sexuality that were utterly incomprehensible to me, but I assumed that if I asked my mom what they meant she would take the book away from me (last summer I told her that story and she said she wouldn’t have). After “It” I probably went back to “The Babysitter’s Club,” youthful innocence mostly intact.

I learned a lot from that book, though. I learned that there were things grownups weren’t telling me. I learned that there was a whole world beyond the BSC and Boxcar Children that I wasn’t ready for yet, but was carrying on well enough without me. I learned that there were bad words SO BAD that I didn’t even know they existed, and I didn’t know what they meant. And I learned that there were secrets and knowledge and information that were mine alone, inside my head, and that contrary to every tenet of child-rearing, I didn’t have to share them.

Sometimes I don’t let kids check out certain books, almost always at the request of their parents or classroom teachers. And while as the steward of the collection and an enforcer of rules I would have to chastise a child who sneaked a book out of the library, part of me would be proud.

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