Design Thinking for Libraries is an approach to improving your library through creative problem solving.

This toolkit guides you through Design Thinking so you can start coming up with solutions to everyday challenges within the library. Design thinking, or human-centered design, is all about starting with people — the users that visit your library. At IDEO, we’ve been using similar methods to envision new products, services, spaces, and experiences that bring them to life. We created this toolkit specifically for the library setting, and we’re looking forward to seeing how you might create impact by seeing your work through a fresh perspective: the design thinking lens!

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About the Toolkit

We created this toolkit to introduce a way of working that will help you understand the needs of your patrons and engage your communities like never before. The toolkit is the result of a project funded by the Global Libraries program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. IDEO led the creation of the toolkit, which was shaped largely from experiences working side by side with librarians in their contexts over the course of 2013-2014. We partnered with the Chicago Public Library in the U.S. and Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark, observed over forty librarians across ten countries, and synthesized learnings from their initial design experiments into this toolkit. We would also like to thank the following organizations for their tireless support in the making of this toolkit:

  • Bucharest Metropolitan Library
  • READ Nepal
  • Jamaica Library Service
  • Vinnytsia Regional Universal Research Library
  • Beyond Access, IREX

This is a working prototype — version one of hopefully many. We invite feedback and stories of your own experience of use to Your stories will inspire others to change libraries for the better. Let’s keep iterating, sharing, and learning together.

What is Design Thinking?

While libraries have existed for centuries, never has the time been so ripe for reflecting upon the future of libraries.

In many communities around the world, public libraries are still the only place where any person, regardless of education or skill level, can have access to information. And as vital as libraries are, many remain underutilized and stretched thin, with limited budgets and resources. The challenges facing librarians are real, complex, and varied. And given the rapidly evolving information landscape, they need new answers, which requires new perspectives, new tools, and new approaches.

Design thinking is one of these new approaches.

With this approach, libraries have:

  • Developed new spaces that promote play as a central part of childhood learning
  • Engaged teens in maker­oriented events that encourage deeper, long­lasting connections with librarians
  • Created new programs that facilitate users to teach one another about digital media resources

Design thinking is a creative approach, or a series of steps, that will help you design meaningful solutions for your library. It’s also a mindset, because you start to think like a designer, even if you aren’t one. Adopting a designer’s mindset enables you to see problems as opportunities and gives you confidence to start creating transformative solutions.

This toolkit covers the steps of design thinking through three phases: Inspiration, Ideation, and Iteration. It also explains how to get started by framing a challenge for yourself, and how you can eventually scale your idea to create more impact.

Download the Toolkit

The toolkit comes in two parts: the toolkit guide, and the accompanying activities workbook. The guide includes readings and resources, while the activities workbook includes corresponding activities that will help you more fully understand design thinking methods.

On average, working through the entire toolkit can take 5-8 hours a week for the next six weeks, depending on how much time you have on a weekly basis with a team or on your own.

Don’t have much time, or just want a quick introduction? Download our “At-a-Glance Guide,” which introduces who you might get started using design thinking over the course of one day.


  • The toolkit is in English. Our hope is that in the future, the toolkit can be translated to other languages.

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