Retroviral and lentiviral based gene delivery vectors have been used in numerous pre-clinical studies and clinical trials due to their advantages, including stable and prolonged expression of therapeutic transgenes and minimal immune responses against the vector. Despite such advantages, however, retroviral vectors also have several limitations for gene therapy applications. For example, they can suffer from a lack of efficient or targeted gene delivery to key cell types. In addition, retroviral vector stability can be compromised by their envelope proteins. This review briefly describes how such limitations have been overcome by recently developed library selection approaches that borrow a lesson from nature: the ability of evolution to generate biomolecules with novel function. These library selection approaches are based on the construction of retroviral libraries where the sequences encoding natural viral components are partially randomized using a variety of methods in order to generate diverse libraries that can be selected to create improved or novel functions. These high throughput, library-based approaches provide a strong complement to rational engineering of viral components for the rapid development of efficient and safe retroviral and lentiviral vector systems for gene therapy.