Spreading innovation with a library card

July 7, 2021

Name: Gates Marquez

Title: Lead librarian assistant

City: Boise, Idaho

As Gates Marquez sees it, city library staff have the perfect vantage point to build relationships with residents and use human-centered design techniques to create user-friendly new policies.
"We're unique in that we get to have conversations with our patrons every day, whether you’re checking out books or you're talking to people about their lives and what they’re interested in," Marquez says.
Learning to build on the inherent customer-centric approach library workers have long employed was one of the reasons Marquez was eager to be part of a Bloomberg Philanthropies innovation training program that the city of Boise began last November.
A librarian assistant at the city's Hillcrest branch library, one of five Boise public libraries, Marquez plans to use the training to gather data from patrons about which pandemic-prompted changes they’d like to see stay. They also plan to gather demographic data on library patrons, the activities they're most interested in, and the effectiveness of different window displays.  
Marquez also plans to outline journey-mapping techniques for their 100 Boise library colleagues in order to visually track experiences such as applying for a library card and pinpoint bottlenecks and pressure points in the process. The idea is to visually represent the journey from initial application for a card to receiving the finished product.
A larger goal for Marquez, who has worked for the city for three and a half years, is to find ways to attract "non-centered" library users—residents who may not have a library card but are regular users. Marquez sees that process including outreach to more diverse library patrons in communities that aren't traditional card-holders, including the disabled.
One of the COVID innovations the Boise team plans to keep is offering "grab and go" home art activity kits that can be accessed without even coming inside library doors.
When it comes to innovation, Marquez says librarians are naturals. "Librarians are innovators by nature. What I’m trying to do is spread the word and do as much teaching as I can, get the concepts in people's brains, and they will take them and run with them."

Pro tip:  “Learning about people’s lived experiences is some of the most valuable data we can get. We have the opportunity to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.”