Island Library Application Design


What is Island Library?

I used to volunteer at a private-owned community library called Island Library in China. There are hundreds of Island Libraries now in different cities of China, and those libraries are run by thousands of volunteers, who share the love for reading and the neighborhoods they live in. Resource sharing among those libraries is one of the core concepts of Island Libraries, but it is hard to realize it due to physical distance and lack of communication platform.

I was the researcher, designer, and prototyper for this class project

For this individual project of SI 582 Introduction to Interaction Design, I hoped to design an application for the library volunteers to better share their experience and the library resources.

This was a 3-month class project

The Problem And The Users

Previous Research

Island Library is a shared brand name for 500 private-owned but public-oriented community libraries in 158 cities of China, Korea, Thailand and Cambodia. These libraries collect their books and find their volunteers from their local communities, and provide.

My study showed that one of the main reasons people volunteered in Island Libraries was to meet interesting people. They were likely to be the fun seekers, and they were generally young and energetic. Many of them were college students, and they expressed interest of visiting Island Libraries in other areas.


Volunteers who love to meet someone new.

  • How can they meet other volunteers?
  • How do they trust each other?
  • How can they meet offline?

Volunteers who are fun seekers.

  • How to motivate them to share more?
  • What can be fun for them?

Volunteers who love travel.

  • How can they share on their way?
  • How to make sharing more effective?
  • How to make sharing more meaningful?

Problem Statement

How to dig and utilize these underused resources in the libraries as well as deepen the engagement of volunteers are problems for islibraries, because the libraries are scattered in 158 different cities and people involved with this business don’t have one shared platform for them all - the WeChat subscription account is a one-way channel, and the chatting groups are only for local volunteers.

The main challenge for them to share would be the distance and lack of platform for communication.

Design Evolution

I brainstormed & sketched alternative solutions, created paper prototyped, and then digital prototype

Based on my research on the problems and the results of the competitive analysis, I sketched the storyboard as well as alternative solutions. During the sketching stage, I brainstormed possible scenarios and solutions for users centering around resource sharing and volunteer management.I also conducted user interviews about the challenges and the alternative solutions at the early phase of this project with the library volunteers remotely. I then created paper prototypes based on the user study results and brought it to my classmates and target users for reviews. Based on the feedbacks, I created the digital prototype using Justinmind.


The following sketches are the alternative solutions I brainstormed

alternative solutions
alternative solutions
alternative solutions
alternative solutions

The following video shows my paper prototype.

The following image shows my digital prototype in progress.


Core Values

The core values I held for this design are

  • Simplicity
  • Fun
  • Sharing without boundaries (anywhere and anytime)

Those values were practiced by the library volunteers daily and led to some design decisions I made: (1) I decided to cut out management and message features from my original design in order to keep the application simple and focused - it addressed the priority, as well as my time and resource constraints. (2) I chose to cut out the login page because personal information collected by the app would only be the names of the volunteers and the libraries they volunteer at - volunteers should be able to use this app anywhere and anytime without "walls".

The Outcome

I came to a simpler solution that addressed the sharing problems

There are mainly 6 sections within this application. Among which, forum, book and idea box are directly related to ‘sharing’. Forum is for volunteers to post their ideas, thoughts, experience as well as islibrary events, volunteer opportunities, relevant internship information. Book and Idea Box enable volunteers to request a book/an idea box from other islibaries and find someone in the volunteer community to deliver it for them. By enabling those three functions, volunteers can share their tacit knowledge through both virtual and physical ways. Also, books in islibraries can be used beyond the geographic boundaries of each library.


Watch a short video of how the prototype works

I Learned...

"Everything. From problem statement to digital prototype, I learned both the theories and skills. Even though this design is not perfect, it was a great experience to integrate the ideas of island library into one single application."

Future Recommendations

  • Distance is a big problem in understanding your users. Try colocation.
  • Iterations and test with real users.
  • Design is in details.