Libraries as design sites

August 6, 2020

I think many of us will agree on the value of libraries. We’ll have memories of summer reading clubs facilitated by our local library, or the (rare) feeling of freedom you had as a child: a place where you were encouraged to roam free. As Rita Dove says, “libraries are where it all begins.”

So, when I saw this tweet about librarians doing contact tracing, Covid-19 testing and distributing lunches for kids – I wasn’t surprised, I was reminded.

Libraries bring resources: from books, computers and librarians, to a free space to sit for an hour or two. In most cases, they’re accessible and trusted. Let’s consider how libraries may shape our co-design approaches.


Why libraries are the best place for us to work

To create an environment of genuine community participation from the start, we believe you need to bring people together in a place that is owned by the community.

Caravan Studios builds apps for social good through a participatory approach. Here, Marnie explains why she sees libraries as perfect spaces for community participation: they’re accessible and libraries, themselves, hold culture, identity and knowledge.

Community-led practices to build the worlds we need

If you’re interested in design justice, this book should be at the top of your list. When thinking about libraries as sites for design, I was reminded of Sasha Constanza-Chock’s exploration into how makerspaces and innovation hubs, so often, reinforce unjust power dynamics present outside of their walls.

Reasons your library is the most important place in town

Public libraries […] can help build small communities of difference that encourage people to interact with and learn from each other through dialogue.

Through creating spaces for discourse, bringing together diverse groups of people and valuing open access; libraries’ value systems urge us to consider our own, in the context of participatory design.


As Zadie Smith said:

What a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.

This was originally published on my newsletter, Design With. It was archived in 2023.