Gene therapy, to delivery of genetic material to a patient for therapeutic benefit, has significant promise for translating basic knowledge of disease mechanism into biomedical treatments. The clinical development of the field has been slowed, however, by the need for improvements in the properties and capabilities of gene delivery vehicles. Vehicles based on viruses offer the potential for efficient gene delivery, but because viruses did not evolve to serve human therapeutic needs, many of their properties require significant improvement, including their safety, efficiency, and capacity for targeted gene delivery. Since viruses are highly complex biological entities, engineering such properties at the molecular level can be challenging. However, there has been significant progress in developing approaches that mimic the mechanisms by which viruses arose in the first place. In particular, library-based selection, the generation of one diverse genetic library and selection for new properties, and directed evolution, based on the multiple rounds of library generation and selection for iterative improvement of function, have strong potential in engineering novel properties into these complex biomolecular assemblies. This review will discuss progress in the application of peptide display, library selection, and directed evolution technologies toward engineering vectors based on retrovirus, adeno-associated virus, and adenovirus that are capable of targeted delivery to specific cell types. In addition to creating biomedically useful products, these approaches have future potential to yield novel insights into viral structure-function relationships.