Calgary Public Library Receives the 2020 Innovation Award

Calgary Public Library Receives the 2020 Innovation Award

A Design Thinking Approach to Crisis Response Demonstrates Transformative Approach to Revolutionizing Public Libraries

Calgary, AB The Urban Libraries Council announced Calgary Public Library as one of 10 Top Innovators during the 2020 Innovations Celebration held virtually on December 11. The annual Innovations award program recognizes and raises the visibility of cutting-edge programs, strategies, tools, techniques, and ideas from ULC’s member library systems across the U.S. and Canada.

Calgary Public Library’s Design Thinking Approach to Crisis Response was selected by a panel of expert judges from 260 submissions in 10 categories that showcase creative thinking and imaginative applications of library resources. Calgary Public Library won in the category of Organizational Change and Strategic Management, with award winners being recognized for their level of ingenuity, the outcomes achieved and the ability for other libraries to adapt and implement their work.

 “This year’s winners have quickly taken bold moves to ensure that the library continues to serve the needs of the people in their community – especially those most vulnerable including children, stressed families, isolated seniors, and struggling small businesses,” said Urban Libraries Council President and CEO Susan Benton. “In the 10th year of our Innovations Initiative, we received the most dynamic and cutting-edge submissions to date. We celebrate Calgary Public Library for creating an initiative that will positively impact their community and serve as a model to public libraries throughout North America.”

 The Library closed its doors on March 16, and it would be 126 days before all locations reopened at regular hours. The Library had to respond to the crisis and ensure a continuity of service, but also position the organization for the future. With a unique operational structure in place to prioritize design thinking, the Calgary Public Library was able to quickly pivot in the face of COVID-19 and employ the fundamentals of this approach to respond to community needs during the pandemic, create a safe and rapid path to reopening, and launch long-term service innovations.

 "Calgary Public Library is proud to be the recipient of this award, particularly as it recognizes the work of our entire team mustering a coordinated, impactful, and timely response to a community-wide crisis,” said Mark Asberg, CEO for Calgary Public Library. “This response involved rapid prototyping and piloting and continuous iteration and learning. Leveraging our team's strengths in strategically aligned design thinking, a key success was keeping the post-pandemic future front of mind in responding to present day needs: deliberately contemplating how what we are building today is preparing us for a different library world that will not simply be a return to the traditions of the past."

 The rapid implementation of multiple supports allowed Calgary Public Library to safely pivot and reopen services to address immediate needs, while establishing infrastructure that will enhance services long-term. The Library provided insight and knowledge to dozens of other library systems, including health and safety measures, communication methods, reopening models, and new service ideas.

 The full award submission can be viewed at A Design Thinking Approach to Crisis Response. All 2020 ULC Innovations entries can be viewed at


About Calgary Public Library

Calgary Public Library, with 740,000 members and 21 locations, has been inspiring the life stories of Calgarians for more than 100 years. Last year, Calgarians borrowed more than 15 million physical and digital items and visited the Library seven million times.

About Urban Libraries Council

The Urban Libraries Council is an innovation and impact tank of North America’s leading public library systems. ULC drives cutting-edge research and strategic partnerships to elevate the power of libraries as essential, transformative institutions for the 21st-century. More than 150 urban member libraries in the U.S. and Canada rely on ULC to identify significant challenges facing today’s communities and provide new tools and techniques to help libraries achieve stronger outcomes in education, digital equity, workforce and economic development, and race and social equity.

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