Design Thinking and Library Practice: Inspiring Initiatives and User-centered Services, Programs, and Physical Spaces


Design thinking has emerged in library science as a process to develop user-centered services, programs, and physical spaces. Design thinking is a nonlinear, human-centered process for problem-solving that allows for iterative work in collaborative settings. Different definitions of design thinking exist, but the underlying concept is the same: talk to your customers/users, consider their needs, and implement change accordingly. Stanford’s presents five nonlinear stages of design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test, a process used in architecture, engineering, and graphic and industrial design. It was first introduced to academic libraries in 2007 and further enhanced by IDEO’s Design Thinking for Libraries, a toolkit developed through support from the Gates Foundation. Since then, design thinking has led to development of an ideation space at University of Oregon’s Knights Library and youth activities at the Seattle Public Library, to name a few. However, design thinking has been criticized as a reductive method advertised to company executives as a magic wand for innovation. Library and information science professionals have also expressed criticism, citing concerns that the practice is nothing more than a passing fad. Nonetheless, many industries implement design thinking for creative problem solving, transformative change, and to foster innovation. This paper analyzes design thinking in library settings through research that includes surveys and interviews with members of the American Library Association. We identify current uses of design thinking in libraries, investigate the nature of current implementations of design thinking, and provide recommendations for future design thinking projects in libraries.


Jennifer Palilonis
Professor, Director, Center for Emerging Media Design & Development, Ball State University, Indiana, United States

Sarah Allison
Head, Archives User Engagement , University Libraries , Ball State University , Indiana, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


Design Management and Professional Practice


Design Thinking, Libraries

Digital Media


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