Blog Task 1

Problem Space

I’ve been exploring the idea of capitalizing on unused/empty space in everyday places (in this specific instance, an airport) by turning them into non-traditional learning spaces.

My partner works at the Syracuse Airport, and talked about how there is a lot of unused or empty terminal space in the building.

photo 2 (2) photo 5 photo 3 (1) photo (7)

At around the same time, my friend, classmate & colleague Anna shared an article with me  about the first airport library near Amsterdam, at the Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. In a 2010  New York Times article praising the innovative initiative, past President of the American Library Association (ALA) Roberta Stevens is quoted as saying, “We can’t cement ourselves into the past. We have to reflect the changes we see in our societies, and its clear that we are becoming more and more transient.” And thus, the idea of creating an airport library in Syracuse, NY or transforming empty space at the local airport into a learning space that benefits the people of the airport, and also provides marketing and outreach benefits to the libraries in this area was born.

Design thinking

Throughout the exploration of our required reading for the past few weeks, an integral framework to design thinking that stuck out to me was Tim Brown’s three stages; Feasibility, viability, and desirability (Brown, 2009).

Based on the subsequent success  of libraries in other airports (including Schiphol, and five other libraries in the U.S–most recently Boise, Idaho) creating a digital or little free library in the Syracuse Airport seems to me a feasible, viable and desirable project.

I think that designing spaces for learning should involve a high level of strategy, and intentionality as well as a firm knowledge of what your target audience/demographic/community wants and needs. From layout, to signage, to furniture placement, almost everything can serve a learning purpose if the space is used to its full potential. For instance, according to Reuter, 2007 children said that finding books they like is the biggest barrier they face to reading. Theoretically, if library spaces for children were organized in an intuitive way that made relevant reading materials easier to find, this barrier to reading dissolves.  As Brown, 2010 states, “A designer now must take the needs of the entire world, including the environment, into account.”

Along those same lines, I also think there should also be a dynamic interactivity between space and users of the space as opposed to a space being a static, monolithic thing.

Description of changes

A small pilot test of this design project would be the first step to change, in the way of a Little Free Library. The purpose of this pilot test would be to gauge overall interest of the airport customers’ in the service we’re hoping to provide (or to gauge desirability of the space redesign). Steps to implement the pilot project included:

1. Partnering with local libraries in the Syracuse area (or pulling from my own personal library) to put together a small collection of reading material for adults, teenagers and children.

2. Setting up pop-up little free libraries in the empty terminal spaces pictured above.

3. Observing those pop-up little free libraries, engaging with the airport customers using the little free libraries, and gathering valuable feedback to get started on next steps for a bigger, perhaps more digital airport library.

As the space redesign progresses, more updates will follow. Stay tuned!

Comments on other posts:

1. Patricia’s blog

2. Shannon’s blog

3.  Rochelle’s blog


Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation Harper Collins.

Clark, N. (2010). At schiphol, an unlikely sanctuary of books. Retrieved, 2014, Retrieved from

Prentice, G. (2014). Branching out: Boise library goes digital at the airport. Retrieved, 2014, Retrieved from

Reuter, K. A.“Children selecting books in a library”: Extending models of information behavior to a recreational setting. (Doctorate, University of Maryland).


6 Comments on Blog Task 1

  1. Ronnie
    August 2, 2014 at 8:58 am (6 years ago)

    Hi Elizabeth
    I love your idea. I travel so much for work and I see bored kids running riot in airports all the time and I totally agree with the ‘start small’ philosophy. I’m wondering if you were thinking of a way to promote your library? A poster or two – or perhaps a pop up ad on the airports website? I often get an email link to an airports website in my ‘information before you travel’ communications – they might do some of the work for you! Good Luck!

  2. Heather
    August 3, 2014 at 2:45 am (6 years ago)

    Hi Elizabeth,
    What a fantastic idea and an airport is the ideal location. I have observed lots of similarly under-utilized space in airports. It would be such a bonus as a free source of reading material for those long waits that can happen. It would be easy to encourage people to donate magazines that they have finished with also. My partner and I have often whiled away an hour or more of transit time playing a game like Scrabble. We carry our own travel set but it would be great if your little library had games which could be played too.
    We have a similar little library here in Melbourne at one of the large shopping centres in the city. Melbourne Central is also one of main commuter train stations so the access to new reading material for commuters is welcomed.

  3. rmasaoka
    August 3, 2014 at 7:00 am (6 years ago)

    Hi Elizabeth.
    This is great! You have certainly thought outside the box and used the constraints as inspiration like Kuratko, Goldsworthy & Hornsby suggested. I think there is definitely a need for this and am really interested in seeing how you go. I suppose part of the journey is selling this idea so that all parties can see how it benefits them. Good luck!

  4. Jim t
    August 4, 2014 at 12:18 am (6 years ago)


    I really like the library in the airport idea. I’ve seen some children play spaces but not a library. It would be fantastic to check out an e-book which you could take on the plane, but I’m wondering if you would get some push back from the tenants who are selling books?


  5. plee
    August 8, 2014 at 12:45 pm (6 years ago)

    Elizabeth – Your innovative idea reminded me of the “Free books at the bus stop” –

  6. Ewan McIntosh
    August 13, 2014 at 12:54 pm (6 years ago)

    Really nice example of leaning into the constraints, rather than getting frustrated by them. This is quite a chunky project, though. I wonder if you could provide us with a smaller, shorter, more manageable prototype – Saturday morning library at the airport – to capture some of the impact that haves, before committing to such a lot of effort and coordination with all those partners. Do you think you could give us an update on a small actual action and some impact in the weeks to come?


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