Case Study: A Gathering Place

How can we engage Minneapolis residents in the redesign of Southeast Library?

Minneapolis’ Southeast Library sits on the edge of Dinkytown and provides library services to four distinct neighborhoods: Como, Marcy-Holmes, Cedar-Riverside, and Prospect Park. Hennepin County sought innovative approaches to discovering the library, learning, and information needs within these four communities, so they incorporated design thinking methods into their exploration of ideas that would improve public services. Sandy served as one of two design leads contracted by The Humphrey School to guide the design thinking process.

Our challenge

How do you help people imagine the future? Part of our challenge with this project was crafting meaningful engagement experiences that would shed light on future library needs.


Working with Hennepin County, the University project team established an Advisory Committee composed of representatives from the four neighborhoods and other library stakeholders. This committee was demographically diverse— age, race, economic circumstances, and gender. As the two design leads on the project, we crafted agendas for five Advisory Committee meetings, as well as four public meetings, and facilitated each of these meetings.


The Advisory Committee was our initial ‘test group,’ helping the project team understand the needs of their neighborhoods and test some design thinking methods that would be introduced into public meeting settings.

Some of those methods included Mad Lib, personas, storyboards, and an Elito spreadsheet to help synthesize data. Mad Lib is a short narrative with fill-in-the-blanks, in this case, a future scenario that prompted people to imagine how they would be interacting with the Southeast Library.

Committee input helped us craft four personas to represent library users: Joyce, Abshir, Mattie, and Geoffrey. We asked the Advisory Committee to help us construct stories around these personas that involved a future library; this gave us insight into what kinds of services, spaces, and transportation needs are important to these communities.

We drew up storyboards based on what we heard and, using them as examples, asked community members in public meetings to craft their own stories to help us design new spaces and services for the Southeast Library.

All of these methods contributed to identifying new ways of thinking about what a library looks like and how it can serve the community.


The Project Team issued a report in December 2014 that will help inform Hennepin County’s redesign of the Southeast Library.  Key findings include:

  • People still want traditional library services such as books, quiet spaces, and help with information.
  • Computers, access to software, and related digital services are very much in demand.
  • Library spaces should be flexible: A library should be a ‘crossroads’ that accommodates socializing, meetings, making things, and connecting people and things.
  • Library access should be a priority: Mobile libraries, pop-up libraries, and satellite locations are needed.


Sandy Wolfe Wood, Ange Wang, and the Humphrey Project Team: Steve Kelley, Meredith Brandon, Bryan Lopez, Jerry Stein.