Libraries as Innovation Hubs: Community-Driven Design

Public libraries have become hubs for innovation and community engagement. Library programs and services must respond to community needs, changes in technology, and fluctuations in funding. To design them, library workers must listen closely to library users. Libraries are using collaborative, community-driven design processes to generate ideas, build engagement, and solve problems.

During our May webinar we showcased two examples of libraries that have led community-driven design processes. Our guests were Chris Kyauk of the Alameda County Library in Northern Calfornia and Sarah Washburn of Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup.

Community-Centered Design to Solve Problems

Sarah Washburn shared Caravan Studios' process for community-centered design to develop technology solutions that solve real problems. This process has been successfully applied to projects in which libraries were key strategic collaborators. Most recently, in Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Public Library served as both location host and contributor to the design process. The problem-solving efforts centered around emergency food assistance, with the Indy Hunger Network as a major partner.

Sarah shared the details of their five-step process: generate, design, select, build, and use. The process begins with a "generate and design session" that brings all interested parties together to talk about the problem. In Indianapolis, the session included individuals from local nonprofits, food pantries, the city government, the local universities, and the library. The first part of the generate and design session is a time to discuss the problem. Participants ask questions and generate ideas without having to think about how to actually design specific technology interventions.

Participants ask questions and generate ideas

Once the group gets through the discussion, they break into teams to start designing app ideas using construction paper, scissors, glue, and tape. They envision what the solution might look like and do, without having to worry about the technical process. In Indianapolis, teams came up with three pitches for apps, which were then turned into printed designs to be voted on by the entire city of Indianapolis in the process's third step, select.

teams start designing app ideas using construction paper, scissors, glue, and tape

printed designs to be voted on by the entire city of Indianapolis

Collaborative Innovation for Library Staff

Chris Kyauk spoke about the Alameda County Library's Innovation Fest, a one-day collaborative team challenge for public library staff. The Innovation Fest was designed to help library staff become more comfortable with design processes and risk-taking to better create solutions to serve library patrons. This event was based on an idea from tech company Atlassian called the ShipIt. In a ShipIt, staff are given 24 hours to work on any project idea they want, ending in a pitch session where winning projects are awarded prizes. Chris brought this idea to Alameda County and adapted it to their library environment.

The Innovation Fest

The Innovation Fest was open to library staff across the San Francisco Bay Area and was supported by a local library innovation grant from the Pacific Library Partnership. Staff were put in teams based on common interests. Teams were given 8 hours to identify a problem, generate ideas for possible solutions, and come up with a blueprint or prototype for a solution.

The Innovation Fest was open to library staff across the San Francisco Bay Area

The day had a loose structure but had many resources to help guide the teams. The event included a virtual keynote address for participants to build on, and mentors were onsite from area technology companies and nonprofit organizations. Some of the ideas that teams developed included developing partnerships with local animal shelters, sharing expertise for foreign-language cataloging, and creating "pop-up" libraries in the community.

The event included a virtual keynote address for participants to build on

Creating Community Engagement in Your Library

Are you looking to try community-driven design processes in your library? Do you want to host an innovation fest? Watch the full webinar to learn more and gain tips for getting started.

Images 1-3: Caravan Studios

Images 4-5: Alameda County Library

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