Emanating from the belief that culture is a necessity rather than a luxury, the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF) was established by Arab Bank in 1978 as a pioneering non-profit initiative to support cultural and social responsibility initiatives in the Arab World. The Foundation aims to serve as a beacon of light in Jordan and the Arab World by laying the groundwork for a society that nurtures reading, caters to scientific research and innovation, and promotes cultural enlightenment.

Founded in 1986 as the first computerised and fully equipped public library in Jordan, the Abdul Hameed Shoman Public Library contributes significantly to the achievement of the Foundation’s goals. For the past 35 years, AHSF has been continuously working on developing an operating model for public libraries to serve as active learning centres that offer accessible and diverse resources, as well as services and opportunities for self-development for all.

In 2019, the Foundation embarked on advancing effective integration between its scheme of programmes to achieve evolutionary growth. The Internal Innovation Programme was launched within the AHSF’s main library to further advance the existing experiences and programmes, and innovate new offerings, experiences, and operating models. The AHSF Library fostered innovation to achieve the transformational leap from a conventional public library that follows an approach of incremental and sustaining development, to creating an innovative and vibrant community center by adopting a radical development approach.

The Internal Innovation Programme is a human and solution-centred approach to innovation. It utilises an internally customised design thinking toolkit that aims to build existing employee capacities while acquiring their buy-in to investigate challenges and adopt a new line of thinking in the innovation of superior solutions. Four active employees from the library team were engaged in the library innovation programme for 6 months. The team identified the patrons’ partial and limited engagement with the library’s various events as a main challenge that hampers its ability to reinvent itself into a thriving modern community hub dedicated to learning and personal development in its many different forms, while continuing to provide patrons with access to books, spaces, and technologies.

The team implemented a 360° data collection approach to understand the frequent experience of library employees, management, patrons, cultural advocates, potential patrons, and other programmes’ beneficiaries by conducting surveys, focus groups, observations, individual interviews, and desktop research. Accordingly, significant data was collected and analysed to pinpoint the root causes of the challenge.

As a result, a group of pioneering ideas were categorised, prototyped, tested in the library, adjusted, and validated by the team. Five main “response-to-challenge” outcomes were proposed and implemented as vital solutions to refine value propositions for increasing the engagement of employees and current patrons and create appealing activities and programmes for new potential segments.

The five main new engaging programmes that evolved from employing design thinking approach in the AHSF library include:

  1. Open Mic/Space Events: The lack of open cultural spaces and free platforms remains among the main challenges for Jordanian talents, especially in the art and cultural fields. Hosting a regular open mic event in AHSF public library provided a space for cultural talents to share their work.
  2. Board Games: Board games bring people closer, strengthen relationships, increase brain function, and enhance creativity and self-confidence. In an attempt to connect with patrons who desire diverse gaming experiences, which engage their imagination, spur critical thought, and exist in a physical rather than digital realm, the AHSF library team arranged for chess trainings and tournaments and linked all board games activities to related books and resources.
  3. Reading Competitions: Reading marathon, theme-based reading competitions, and online reading competitions were launched in the AHSF library in 2020. These activities were extremely successful in engaging patrons to participate and read in a fun and constructive way.
  4. Quirky Capacity Building Programme: Libraries play a vital role in building the skills of our communities in various fields.  The AHSF library aims to contribute to bridging the gap between market needs and the individual’s business skills by providing a scheme of business theme trainings. The library training programme also offers patrons a set of training programmes that expose and fuel their interest in new fields such as photography, languages, painting, sign language, first aid, etc. Moreover, the AHSF library delivers regular knowledge sharing sessions on technology and the environment. Interestingly, patrons are engaging in this programme not only as attendees to the training sessions, but also as trainers and experts. Patrons can arrange and conduct trainings relevant to their areas of expertise. This distinguished aspect of the programme took it to the next level in terms of size of engagement and potential for scalability.
  5. Loyalty Programme: The AHSF library has launched its loyalty programme for patrons ‘’my points’’. The new patrons reward programme allows library cardholders to receive points for their participation in activities and exchange them for different rewards. The Loyalty Programme aims to encourage patrons to continue utilising the library and its services.

An evaluation is currently being conducted to assess the outcomes of implementing the design thinking approach in the library and the designed programmes and activities. The programme has effectively advanced the capacity of the employees involved in problem solving and creative thinking, significantly increased patron engagement with the library, and expanded the existing patron segments to include youth, and jumpstarted the library’s transformation into a vibrant community centre. The AHSF library is currently working on expanding these programmes and activities to be implemented on a national level, as part of its mission to deliver diverse, innovative, and integrated programmes and activities that are inclusive, sustainable, and easily accessible in Jordan.

Written by: Ala’ I. Abu Lail, Programme Development and Innovation Manager, Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation