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Library Card Design Contest

San Francisco Public Library, CA
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Innovation Summary

In partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Innovation, ImproveSF.com and San Francisco Unified School District, SFPL initiated a Library Card Design contest. More than 3,500 design entries were received and judged by 14,000 online voters to select the winning designs in five age groups.

Problem Statement

After nearly exhausting its supply of library cards designed by San Francisco school children in 2007, SFPL embarked on a new library card design challenge in 2012. The ability to offer cards featuring original artwork had proved very popular, however the most frequent request made in the 2007 contest was to provide an opportunity for artistic adults to participate as well. SFPL decided to revise the contest with the following goals: utilize the city’s innovative new civic challenge tool; maintain a strong partnership with the school district in the project; ensure winners could be fairly categorized by age groups; bring greater public involvement in the process; and serve as an outreach tool on the importance and value of library cards. The contest proved to be an early test for the viability and visibility of San Francisco's new ImproveSF.com challenge site aimed at seeking public involvement to address civic issues. Public participation in the challenge far exceeded San Francisco’s expectations. Thanks to the use of the online tool, the library was able to eliminate some aspects of the paper process for design submissions as well as provide a marketing platform that built a significant online community of library fans and allowed sharing of design submissions on social media sites. The project positioned San Francisco Public Library as a vital partner in innovation and civic engagement.


Key elements of the innovation included: • Creating the online process that would allow members of the public to submit library card designs via an upload tool, while also establishing a parallel process for print submissions for those without technology access and ensuring those submissions were scanned and loaded in batches to the online voting system. • Crafting a clear design template with precise size dimensions, categories, directions and questions that could be used both online and in print. Then, with the assistance of partners ImproveSF.com, working with a professional agency that could digitally translate the handwritten information submitted on the templates for the critical online voting process. • Working with San Francisco Unified School District art department chairs to encourage class submissions and ensure the project was promoted within the public schools. • Identifying noteworthy local artists, writers and community members to judge the competition: author Daniel Handler, illustrator/author Ashley Wolff, artist Sirron Norris, advertising/branding expert Suzee Barrabee, School Board member Hydra Mendoza and City Librarian Luis Herrera. • Developing a submission review process, engaging online design comments, and determining a judging process to select 10 semifinalists in each of the five age categories: 2nd grade and under; 3rd through 5th grade; middle school; high school; and adult. • Hosting a final event to unveil the winning designs and hear about the inspiration for library card designs from each winner.


With more than 3,500 design submissions and 14,000 online interactions with the contest, SFPL clearly met its goal to bring greater public engagement into the design of its new library cards. The project provided a strong and successful partnership for the Library and the Mayor's Office of Innovation and allowed both agencies to expand their online reach via the ImproveSF.com tool and build community. The contest was the single most successful challenge to date for ImproveSF.com and brought the highest level of community engagement. The Library Card Design Contest was also an excellent branding tool; not only did it generate significant free media coverage, it also allowed library fans -- the card designers themselves -- to herald the value of the library through their illustrations, proclaiming the Library's benefits and what the Library means to them, in their own words. Lessons learned included building in longer time periods for voting on the semifinal designs. (The majority of the 14,000 online interactions were over a short, 2-week voting period.) The ultimate outcome of the contest is five new library cards that SFPL immodestly predicts are among the most beautifully designed library cards in the country. The new designs allow SFPL to create a new slate of sustainable library cards that will all be made from recycled or recyclable content.