Design Thinking in the Library

The onset of the internet ushered in us into the Information Age. Now the with access to unlimited information, video tutorials combined with new personal fabrication machines (3D printers  and laser cutters) we are now entering the Innovation Age. Co-working facilities, fab labs and makerspaces are popping up in cities all over offering a place to create and collaborate to spark new businesses and industries. Our libraries can parallel this real-world trend by assisting and promoting a framework of creative thinking through the design thinking model with or without a dedicated makerspace.

As the focus on creativity and innovation in education increases, libraries can bring design-thinking into their programs. Librarians can implement design thinking into their programming to advance creative thinking alongside the critical thinking for our schools supporting the pedagogy and curriculum of project-based learning and STEM/STEAM initiatives of recent years. Fast Company defines it as, “the methodology commonly referred to as design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business, or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results.*” There are different variations of the design thinking model, but generally in falls into 5 categories:


  1. Discovering or Defining a problem
  2. Ideating or Brainstorming approaches
  3. Prototyping and Tinkering
  4. Test, Analyze and Refine
  5. Feedback loop and User-Studies

The transition to adding a design-thinking approach should be easy for librarians as we have taught research frameworks like “The Big 6” and “Guided Inquiry” and other methods to simplify and organize the complex processes of research.  Now librarians can help teachers experiment with the design process for their next creative project with students. An easy entry point with the curriculum would be outreach to capstone programs and project-based learning. Offer sessions on each step of the process as students work through their design problems. Employ the same questioning skills you used with the reference interview in traditional research, but with the new focus of looking at the form and function of what the student trying to achieve. An added benefit of incorporating design thinking in your regular programming is that there is organic, on-the-spot research, so you can continue to reinforce research skills. Additionally, the librarian can help the teacher focus on documentation throughout the creative process by referring to Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks and others as examples. The documentation is not formal like MLA or APA, etc, but it underpins the necessary skills of documenting the progress of a major work. Take it a step further by suggesting students create an “Instructable” in which they share the steps of their creative process in a public forum in which effective documentation is a core competency.

The library with the access to all disciplines of knowledge is a great place to incorporate creative thinking processes. Modeling design thinking in your program can invigorate your teaching practice as an added tool in your teaching toolbox.  Offering your skills and time as a teaching-partner on PBL teams within your school makes you a linchpin in your organization. Have fun and enjoy the creative process with your patrons by offering design challenges in your library alongside reading initiatives. If you are looking for more about design thinking the following resources can help you dive deeper into design.


Design Thinking Comes to Independent Schools by Peter Gow

Recasting Teachers and Students as Designers by Mindshift

Iterating and Ideating: Teachers Think Like Designer by Tina Barseghian

Putting Power In the Hands of Kids Through Design Thinking by Tina Barseghian

What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School? by Katrina Schwartz

Design Thinking for Educators by IDEO

Scaffolding Creativity Through Design Thinking by Mindy Ahrens

How to Apply Design Thinking in Class, Step By Step by Mindshift

*Design Thinking…What is That? by Fast Company



3 thoughts on “Design Thinking in the Library

  1. This is a great post – lots of food for thought! We did a collaborative project with our art / business departments last year that used the principles of Design Thinking, and it was a refreshing way of approaching a research project. Thanks for the list of links, too!

  2. Great list of resources! We are definitely thinking through how to adapt our information resources for the future, and this will help guide our thinking.

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