General Considerations for Library Layout

by Greg Andrzejewski

“The survival of the library as a space is not dependent on smart architecture (it may help though) – it is dependent on the ability of the library to meet the needs of people and convincingly add value to their lives” (Jens Thorhauge (2004).   “Building Design for the Digital Age.”  Danish National Library Authority, Naple Meeting, Ireland, 4/22/04, slide 20)


Glasgow School of Art Library Reading Room

How many of us remember encountering this sort of library?    One that looks like a torture chamber more than a place to share knowledge?

Much has changed as libraries have developed over the years and much remains to be done if libraries (public, academic, school, and special) are to remain useful to the public.   Much of their usefulness will have to do with their layouts.   The atmosphere/ambience, ability to find information/signage, safety/accessibility and organization of collections all contribute to creating a productive and satisfying user experience.  Whether designing the layout for a new building, remodeling an existing structure, or simply making changes to the existing design on a limited budget, the layout of the library should emphasize the patron or customer and should also reflect the creativeness of the librarians.  Let’s explore some of the basics and think about the possibilities.

Ambience and Atmosphere


In two of her works, Creating the Customer-Driven Library:  Building on the Bookstore Model (2005) and Creating the Customer-Driven Academic Library (2009), Jeannette Woodward argues that libraries need to change in order to suit the changing needs of customers and to accomodate current technologies.   In her earlier work she looks at bookstores and how they attract and invite customers and extrapolates her observations to envision ways to improve the library experience.   Even though different libraries, serving different communities will have particular needs, many of the aspects of library layout apply to most if not all library types:  color (paint), furniture, sound/acoustics, lighting, and food and beverage services.  Woodward writes that color poses particular problems for libraries.   Many libraries have been painted in neutral, lifeless tones for the practical reasons of making everything “work” together and because trendy color schemes go out of style almost as soon as they are finished.    She remarks however that color has a profound psychological and sensory effect on people and that depending on the purpose of particular areas of the library the color scheme may change.   For example, yellow and red are warm inviting colors that may function well in a northern library where the winter days grow increasingly dreary but softer colors and wood panelling might work best in quieter study areas where people want to focus and feel comfortable.   She argues that prints and patterns need to be carefully considered because colors, especially in a vast space often look different from a distance, at different times of the day, and in different surroundings.   She points out that colors also help reduce eye-strain for people staring at their computers for hours.    Depending on the library’s location (e.g., in a sunny or cloudy locale), it’s ability to capture natural light, and its indoor lighting systems all determine which colors may or may not work.    The important thing is to provide something more than dreary white walls while avoiding colors that may go out of style or become in themselves offensive after a given time (Woodward (2004), pp. 93-6).    Considerations about lighting and acoustics/noise also affect users’ experiences.   Fluorescent lighting gives many people headaches and tall ceilings often make lighting especially difficult.   Libraries should consider table lamps for study areas and lightbulbs that create a comfortable light level and a soft glow for reading (Woodward, 2009, pp. 55-6).  In addition to lighting, noise levels and quiet areas need to be considered and designed.   And in today’s technological world, reading/study areas should have plenty of outlets for laptops and a solid and strong wireless internet access.


Librisdesign offers many technical documents discussing library design, including lighting and acoustics, and offers a database to help libraries plan out their libraries.

For considerations about the design needs of different library types, please visit the Whole Building Design Guide and click on the various links for public, academic, school, and presidential libraries.

For academic libraries also look at the ACRL/LAMA Guide for Architects.

Woodward notes that bookstores have been extremely responsive to customer needs and that libraries can learn from their design.   She writes that bookstores are often no more than large warehouses but that they often succeed in creating a comfortable environment, an area in which libraries tend to be lagging. Furniture and the inclusion of a cafe are two of these areas that libraries need to consider.  Bookstores over the past few years have created comfortable reading areas by purchasing couches and comfortable chairs in addition to providing tables and wooden chairs.   Woodward writes that furniture should be varied enough to provide for the needs of a variety of people.   When choosing furniture, designers and librarians must consider their patrons’ needs as people come in a variety of shapes and sizes and should be accomodated and comfortable.   A person with back trouble, for example, may not want a soft chair into which they sink.   Likewise an older person might need a higher seated chair that makes it easy to sit down and get back up.   A student studying in a college library might at times want to sit comfortably and read in a nice plush chair but at other times may want to sit at a table or in an area where s/he can collaborate with others.    One style of furniture will probably not suffice for all customers.    In addition to chairs, libraries need to consider other furniture as well.   Often shelves of books are tall and looming making it difficult even for a 6 foot person to browse the top rows.   Libraries need to consider the accessibility of their materials for the average user.   Circulation and reference desks need to be considered as well.   For years libraries utilized tall desks that were easily seen but intimidating to patrons.   Lower desks for circulation and reference services make the librarians seem less like towering figures and more friendly.


Woodward suggests that academic libraries especially should consider a normal office desk with chairs on both sides so that librarian and researcher can sit and speak at eye-level while seeking information.    Because libraries are vast spaces, designers often choose oversized and intimidating furniture, likely so that it stands out in that enormous space.    Woodward and others recommend removing reference desks altogether and instead placing librarians at smaller desks throughout the library.   Similar to a bookstore in which associates wander the store asking if you need assistance, librarians would be performing a similar role, or at least making themselves available in the areas where patrons are seeking information.   Anyone who has had to travel down three floors and cross a building to get back to the reference desk and then has to go all the way back to the stack can testify to the inconvenience this poses.

In addition to comfortable seating, bookstores have provided Starbucks or their equivalent.   Since users will be inside the library, perhaps for hours, they need a chance to grab a coffee or a muffin, to sit in a more active environment, take a break from staring at computer screens and endless stacks of books.    In addition, as Woodward points out in talking about the academic library, students are more likely to remain in the library if they can meet their needs without leaving the building.   Woodward suggests creating a relaxing area perhaps with popular fiction, current periodicals and the like near the cafe so that users taking a break can find relaxing reading before continuing on with their research.   Public libraries likewise can utilize the cafe to make themselves community centers where people can spend hours relaxing.  Libraries need to follow the bookstore example as bookstores (looking at their bottom lines) have realized that providing for customer needs keeps them in the store and thus increases the chances that they will make a purchase and return.


The PLA blog provides several lists of customer needs when designing library spaces.

Finding the way:   Information desks and signage

Information desks and proper signage also have a profound impact on a library’s users.    Woodward writes in both her texts that having an information desk or kiosk available as a user enters the library provides an extremely important function.   It’s purpose is to orient the visitor and provide information necessary to using the library.   She writes that it should provide maps and/or assistance in finding the right direction to begin and should point out where to go for information (the reference desk, for example).   She writes of one public library that staffed the information desk with volunteers (usually senior citizens) who could answer basic questions about the library but would refer the patron to librarians for reference or technology services.    Not every library has space for a welcome center or information desk, however a kiosk giving directional information about the library should be present.    Libraries should help their users feel comfortable and oriented from the minute they walk through the door.    Once inside the library, signs should clearly indicate where to find materials and services, exits, restrooms, the cafe, elevators, photocopiers, etc.    Ellen Bosman at the New Mexico State University Library provides a website that outlines the process of determining the library’s signage needs and instructions for developing a plan of action.  She refers to a 1986 survey in which 80% of students responded that they felt anxiety when going to the library.   This anxiety was largely attributed to feeling lost and disoriented, often because signs were either out of date, unreadable, or poorly placed.    Woodward writes that “To be effective, signage must focus on the customer’s need for information at precisely the moment when that information is most needed” (2009, p. 79).  Woodward again looks at the bookstore model as an example of effective sign usage.   Walk into a Borders and instantly you can find your way around thanks to large simple signs that direct you to books, CD’s, DVD’s, Periodicals, etc.    Once in the general area, books for example, there are smaller signs for fiction, history, poetry, etc.   and even smaller signs dividing the books from there.   In short, customers are rarely left feeling fearful and confused.

signage and display case

signage and display case

She writes that “Signs are an absolutely essential ingredient in your library’s success formula.  They are one of the most important means of communication between the library and its users, and nothing is more important than communication” (2005, p. 119).   She and others emphasize the importance of an effective sign system.   Some of the characteristics necessary for such a system are as follows:

  • Consistent design and color scheme (especially so that all of the signs performing a similar purpose look alike)
  • Just enough signs (to avoid clutter)
  • Placement of signs so that users see them (for example, right in front of them when exiting an elevator)
  • Up-to-date signs (should be updated as collection or layout changes
  • Placement where they are needed (for example, “No Food and Drink” is placed at the exit to the cafe rather than throughout the library  (Woodward, 2005, pp. 118-129)

While professional signs may look nice, they are expensive and difficult to update.   Woodward recommends signs that can easily be changed to reflect movement in the library.   She also suggests that librarians make attractive signs if budget is an issue.   Carolyn Johnson provides a list of twelve questions to determine if your library has a signage problem:

1. Do you put up signs to answer all questions that are repeatedly asked at service desks?

2. Do you post the same sign in more than one place to be sure people will read it?

3. Do you point to signs instead of answering questions?

4. Do you have signs or arrows that point to signs?

5. Are there signs posted on all wall surfaces including, perhaps, all four sides of pillars?

6. Are signs posted that everyone can see but that are really directed only to specific people?

7. Does your library have signs made of three or more different materials: engraved plastic, plastic laminate with adhesive letters, printed cardboard, white plastic block letters that are pushed into grooved black felt inside a locking glass case, photocopied paper in various eye-catching colors, hand lettering on the back of library stationery?

8. Are signs positioned in order to cover debris from previous signs, holes in the wall, mismatched paint, or to hang in harmony with architectural details or in symmetry with other signs?

9. Have you discovered signs that were out-of-date and no longer meaningful but were still hanging because staff didn’t notice they were there?

10. Are you clinging to a color coding system started years ago that has grown to fourteen different colors that are all fading into pinkish tan and grayish green?

11. Are your library’s signs made and posted by any staff member who wants them, whenever and wherever the need is felt?

12. Are you aware there is a problem with signs but are waiting until there is money in the budget to hire a sign-age consultant to go through the whole place and do it right once and for all?  (Johnson, 1993).   In case you answer yes to any of these, she also provides a twelve-step program for fixing the situation.


Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.  at the University of Washington provides a rather complete list of considerations for making the library accessible:   Equal Access:  Universal Design of Libraries

Librisdesign also offers a section on “Universal Design in Libraries


Bosman, Ellen (2008).   “Signage.”   Accessed December 1, 2008 from

Johnson, Carolyn (1993).   “SIGNS OF THE TIMES: Signage in the Library.”  Wilson Library Bulletin 68, 40-2.   Retrieved from Library Literature and Information Science database.

Lackney, Jeffery A.  (2005).   “Post-Occupancy Evaluation of Public Libraries: Lessons Learned from Three Case Studies.”  Library Administration & Management 19 (1), 16-26.  Retrieved from ProQuest database.

LibrisDesign (2008).   Accessed December 3, 2008 from

Searing, Sue and Karla Stover Lucht (2006).   “The Library as Place:  The changing nature and enduring appeal of library buildings and spaces.”   Accessed December 3, 2008 from

Whole Building Design Guide:  Libraries (2008).   Accessed December 4, 2008 from

Woodward, Jeannette (2005).  Creating the Customer-Driven Library:  Building on the Bookstore Model.  Chicago:  American Library Association.

Woodward, Jeannette (2009).   Creating the Customer-Driven Academic Library.   Chicago:  American Library Association.

Questions to Consider

Thinking more about the bookstore model, what other features could be adapted by libraries to create the environment that bookstores have made popular?   Think about how bookstores organize their collections– could libraries adapt any of these methods?

What library design features do you find frustrating at your local library?    Suppose you were a librarian at that library…what could you do to make small but meaningful changes?

One trend in England especially has been to place libraries in shopping centers next to bookstores and cafes.   What are the advantages and disadvantages of this placement?   How might that help simplify all the features a 21st century library requires?

Go to Flickr and look at library interiors (   Choose one library or interior design (the really cool ones well past the first few pages) and then analyze what they have gotten right and what (if anything) looks wrong.  Is the design you chose adaptable to other libraries or types of libraries?

The Green Library

by: Konrad Maziarz

Libraries are already places for lifelong learning, and they provide users with the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. There’s no better place to model best practices for sustainable design, to be incubators for reduced energy consumption, to be educators for a whole range of new ideas than the library.

Francine Fialkoff Editor in Chief Library Journal 1/15/2008


            In an ever-increasing eco-friendly society, the library must lead by example.  Libraries need to modify or design new buildings to meet this ever increasing necessity for society.  Although the Greening effort has less to do with the layout of the interior of the library, it has become one of the most important decision factors when designing libraries. 

What is a green building?

             A green building is a building that is concerned with a high priority on health, environmental and resource conservation.  Green Designs emphasize environmental resource and occupant health concerns:

·         Reduce human exposure to noxious materials.

·         Conserve non-renewable energy and scarce materials.

·         Minimize life-cycle ecological impact of energy and materials used.

·         Use renewable energy and materials that are sustainably harvested.

·         Protect and restore local air, water, soils, flora and fauna.

·         Support pedestrians, bicycles, mass transit and other alternatives to fossil-fueled vehicles.

(Why Green Building Design, 2008)

 Why should Libraries go Green?

             As mentioned earlier libraries must lead by example, buildings are symbols for future generations; the symbols and attitudes of the creators are used to influence the attitudes of future generations and visitors.   Green libraries are built to last, be flexible enough to respond to changing functional demands, provide an environment that is inspiring and safe, and perform efficiently. (Sands, 2005)The aim of a green building is to develop and use sustainable and energy-efficient resources in the construction, maintenance, and long-term life of a structure.  Many libraries considering green design look to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certification program for guidance.(Meyer, 2008)

                       In an ever changing landscape for library design, moving away from the traditional to a more open space structure, green design is a very important factor.  In a recent study of the effect of day lighting on student performance performed by the Heschong Mahone architectural firm, found that students who took their lessons in classrooms with more natural light scored as much as 25 percent higher on standardized tests than other students in the same school district.  (Sands, 2005)The effects of a green building are not only environmental but also psychological; contact with nature and sunlight penetration has been found to enhance emotional functioning.  With all these factors to go green, one of the most important is the cost saving factor of going green.

            Libraries continuously face strains on their budgets, and by going green libraries not only reduce their impact on the environment, they reduce many of the expenses associated with the heating and cooling costs.  In San Francisco libraries were redesigned/retrofitted and now only one of the twenty seven branches needs air conditioning. (Fialkoff, 2008)

 For more reasons to go green or to see other ways companies have been able to save money please watch the video here. (High Performance Building)

How to go Green:


Redevelop Urban Areas – Channel development to urban areas with existing infrastructure, protecting greenfields and preserving habitat and natural resources.

Alternative Transportation – Reduce pollution and land development impacts from car use by locating buildings near transit, providing bicycle amenities, and encourage carpooling.

Reduce Heat Islands by eliminating or shading blacktop paving and dark roof surfaces.

Reduce Light Pollution – Eliminate light escape/inefficiency from the building site. Improve night sky visibility.


Optimize Energy Performance through siting, orientation, building form, insulation, glazing, daylighting, and controls.

Promote Renewable Energy and minimize reliance on limited fossil fuels by incorporating on-site renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass.

Commission your building – Verify that the building is designed, constructed, and calibrated to operate as intended with third party quality control assurance.


Reuse Buildings – Extend the life cycle of building stock, conserve resources, retain cultural resources, reduce waste, and reduce environmental impact of new buildings.

Manage Construction Waste – Divert construction, demolition, and land clearing debris from landfills. Redirect recyclable material back to the manufacturing process.

Reuse Resources – Specify salvaged or refurbished materials such as wood flooring/paneling/cabinets, doors and frames, mantels, ironwork, decorative light fixtures, brick, masonry.

Use Recycling/Recycled Content – Provide for occupant recycling of waste. Specify products that contain recycled material.

Specify Regional Materials – materials that are harvested, extracted and manufactured regionally reduce transportation.

Use Certified Wood – Specify wood from certified sustainably managed forests.


 Assure Ventilation Effectiveness – Employ architectural and HVAC design strategies to increase ventilation effectiveness and prevent short-circuiting of airflow delivery. Consider underfloor HVAC and operable windows.

Daylight and Views – Provide a connection between indoor spaces and outdoor environment through the introduction of sunlight and views in a glare-free way. Consider courtyards, atriums, clerestory windows, skylights, and light shelves.

(Plagmann, 2006)


            Michael Dewe states “The optimum organization of the library interior, both physically and intellectually, combined with the environmental qualities will have a significant impact on users and staff. Readers and borrowers may well rate the public library interior, with a responsive and proactive staff, its ability to meet their library and information needs, and to offer a pleasant and rewarding ambience and experience above a building’s ‘grand design’.”(Dewe, 2006) The library can be built and designed with the utmost care, but it is the people who make the library what it is, the design is an important factor, but the most important is still finding a staff of people that will truly make the library great.

 Useful Links about Green Libraries and Design:

Green Libraries

Library Journal Design Institute: Going Green

U.S. Green Building Council

Going Green @ Your Library Blog

ALA Libraries Build Sustainable Communites 

The Green Press Initiative: Improving the Impact of Publishing

The Green Library Blog

Discussion Starters:

Can the library be a leader and help initiate a needed change for the environment?

Is there enough attention given to the need to become a greener library?

With up to 90% reduciton in natural gas usage and 30% reduction in water usage, can a library afford not to go green?

Other than cost issues for updating/retrofitting can you think of any arguments against going green?


Works Cited:

Dewe, M. (2006). Planning Public Library Buildings: Concepts and Issues for the Librarian: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Fialkoff, F. (2008). Editorial: Green Libraries are Local, Library Journal.

High Performance Building. 2008, from

Meyer, J. (2008). Global Warming’s Library Challenge, Library Journal: Library Journal.


Sands, J. (2005). Sustainable Library Design, Libris Design.

Why Green Building Design. (2008). 2008, from

Historic Preservation and Libraries

By Steve Nichols


Libraries serve to preserve and protect the information that people deem important to themselves.  Libraries are frequently associated with history, after all, they are a nexus for the entire written record and provide insight into our origins.  Libraries are essential for connecting people with their past. And, however, libraries themselves are culturally significant in some circumstances when the building itself has left an indelible print upon human history. Libraries from around the United States have been or are being preserved in order to protect their historical values.

Historic preservation of libraries is a topic that concerns several communities both large and small in the United States. However, many libraries have to vacate their historic buildings and move into new buildings in order to accomodate their collections, patrons, and the ever changing world of technology.

What is Historic Preservation?

Historic Preservation is the, “act or process of applying measures necessary to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property” (Schwier, 2008).
There are numerous laws for historic preservation, both at the federal and state levels. According to the National Register Criteria, Historic libraries are those that are fifty years or older (Schwier, 2008).

Why Preserve Libraries?

There are several reasons why communities decide to preserve their libraries, rather than construct new ones. Economically, it may be less expensive to remodel or add onto an older structure. In some instances, it there may even be tax exemptions if a historic structure is renovated rather than having a new library built  (Schwier, 2008). Taking preservationsit measures, regardless of the historical value of the library, can also save money and energy in the long run as future renovations will not be needed as much (Trinkley, 1992).

Culturally, libraries have always been siginificant to people. People also love connecting with the past.  As Claudine Lieber notes, “…libraries evoke memories, and people adore historical reconstruction… All the evidence of this ever-increasing concern about preservation and an established taste for cultural heritage is present…”  (Lieber, 2007).

Ryan Schwier sums up why historic libraries should be preserved:
    “The process of historic preservation is designed to
     revitalize living communities and sustain a collective
     memory of our past. Everyone can participate. Historic
     public libraries take on a particularly important role in
     the preservation of memory. They are identified with
     people or events from our past and continue to
     function as modern institutions of learning.” (Schwier, 2008)

Out With the Old…

As much as people love history and its icons that they try to preserve, a problem is encountered when the old meets the new.  Especially with libraries, many old structures are incapable of supporting modern technologies unless massive renovations are undertaken. Logically, the older the buidling is, the more likely it is that greater renovations will be needed to modernize it.  Renovating on such a scale can risk the preservation of historic libraries; but, as times have changed, libraries have been able to update without completely altering the original structure.  However, many small libraries, especially Carnegie libraries, have not been able to modernize the layout of their libraries and so they have turned to construction of new buildings.

The libraries around the United States that were built out of the monatary donations of Andrew Carnegie in the late 1800s and early 1900s provided for a major change in how public libraries functioned. Before the Carnegie libraries, many public libraries were closed stacked (Schwier, 2008), that is, the books were not available for the public to pull off the shelf, rather librarians and pages performed that duty, ultimately restricting free access to infromation. Carnegie’s program to establish public libraries in cities and towns provided for open floor plans in the libraries that allowed for easy access of library materials (Schwier, 2008). Again, Ryan Schwier gives excellent insight into the Carnegie libraries:

“Carnegie libraries are highlighted here based on their prominence, high survival rate, and overall recognition…Carnegie libraries were revolutionary in their open access design. Architectural standards were not developed by Carnegie nor were they required for his library grants (Van Slyck, 1991). Instead, importance was placed on economy and efficiency. Open floor plans were encouraged by a pamphlet circulated to all communities receiving grants. The pamphlet, Notes on the Erection of Library Buildings, a publication developed by Carnegie’s secretary, James Bertram, was based on a combined analysis and critique of architects and librarians (Van Slyck). The specialties of diverse, local architects, uniquely interpreting the Notes, helped develop a balance of function and design quality that has had a permanent affect on library construction.” (Schwier, 2008)

The Carnegie libraries may have changed the way public libraries were planned and presented to the public, however, they were not designed to expand in response to patron growth and changes in information materials. Over the years, many public libraries have had to move out of the old Carnegie buildings because the structures are too small to support modern technologies such as computers while still having a functional layout (Schwier, 2008).

Many Carnegie libraries are no longer in use as libraries.  Some have been demolished and others have been integrated into communities in other roles.  The Carnegie library in Anderson, Indiana was turned into a fine arts center (Schwier, 2008).  The former South Branch Library in Toledo, Ohio also serves as a commmunity building (Personal Communication, 12/1/2008). The new South Branch features better lighting and is more physically accessible to all patrons, amongst other improvements (Personal Communication, 12/1/2008).  However, due to the overall abundance of Carnegie libraries and libraries modelled off of Carnegie libraries, some of them are not protected under historic preservation laws and have been removed from society permamently. 

In Warsaw, Illinois, the old Carnegie-style Library was torn down in order to accomodate the needs of the community (Schaller, 2007). The Carnegie library had served Warsaw since 1916, but the building was not adequate enough to meet patron needs in terms of physical and geographic accessibility, as well as computer and technology needs (Schaller, 2007). Opened in 2006, the new library in Warsaw did not completely forsake the past, incorporating several of the features from the 1916 library. The circulation desk, a glass book case, tables, and chairs were all taken from the old Carnegie-style library and placed in the new one (Schaller, 2007). Since then, the Warsaw Public Library has experienced an increase in patronage at the new location (Schaller, 2007).

What’s Old is New…

In some towns and cities in the United States, libraries have moved into old buidlings.  In Yspilanti, Michigan, a library is housed in a former post office that was built in 1914 (Lieber, 2007). Also, in Fayettville, New York, the library resides within an old furniture factory. In these cases, the libraries have helped to preserve buildings that are historically significant to the local community, giving them a unique blend of local history. The Toledo Heights Branch (Personal communication 10/8/2008), a unique Tudor style WPA library from the early 1940s, incorporates its own history into the library floor plan, featuring much of the originial furniture; it also makes good use of the old fireplace as the center of the teen reading area. 

Many towns and cities have preserved the historical value of their libraries, at least in an abstract sense,  the original structures and contents no longer in existence. In Los Angeles, after its library nearly burned down, there was the option to build an entirely new library for the city, however, the library was reconstructed to as it had appeared before the fire. (Lieber, 2007). In Pittsburg, the Carnegie-style libraries have been restored to their original beauty (Lieber, 2007). In Hays, Kansas, part of the library has been rebuilt to appear as it did in the late 1800s ( “…when Buffalo Bill walked down its streets..” Lieber notes) (Lieber, 2007).

Though not necessarily having to do with historic preservation, but rather providing a historic atmosphere, many libraries are incorporating old and classical looking features into the layout of their buildings.  In Denver, the post modern library has modelled some of the rooms to appear as medieval dungeons (Lieber, 2007).  Many other libraries have incorporated old furniture and decorative fireplaces into cozy reading areas (Lieber, 2007). Wooden rocking chairs can also complete the ‘historical’ appearance in childrens areas.


Historic preservation is an important subject to many people.  Libraries are responsible for storing history and providing access to it.  Numerous libraries, not only in the United States, are important as buildings for their own historic value. Andrew Carnegie’s libraries changed the way public libraries functioned and how they were laid out to the public. These buildings are of vast historic value, and many have been protected under law and still function as public libraries.  However, many of these structures, not being intended to grow as populations do, are outdated and can at times be restrictive to the free access of information, be it the physical accessibility or the technological accessibility. In these instances, the libraries have been forced to move into more economical and efficient structures that meet patrons needs; while the older buildings are, hopefully, used by the local communities in some other role, thus preserving the buildings. Preserving a library’s past while still being able to provide a free flowing access to information can be hard to accomplish.


How might preserving a library building fall under the idea of “free access to information” (perhaps in an abstract way)?

How do you think Andrew Carnegie would react to the public libraries of today, knowing how he thought public libraries should be used?

Do you personally know of any old library buildings that have been preserved, restored/reconstructed, or demolished?

Is there too much emphasis placed on the historical significance of a library building? How much more important is material kept in the library than the building itself?

As technology requires libraries to constantly moderize, do you think that eventually historic library buildings will resemble anything that they used to? Or will they simply appear the same on the outside?

Useful Links:

Carnegie Libraries –

Carnegie Library of Pittsburg –

Los Angeles Public Library Fire –

Medford Carnegie Library Building –

Hays Public Library –

Toledo South Branch Library –

Warsaw Public Library –


Works Cited
Lieber, Claudine. (2007). Be a Guest: A French Look on American Libraries. Library Administration and Management 21 (4) Fall, 2007. ALA.

Schaller, Ann. (2007). Warsaw Public Library. Illinois Library Association Reporter 25 (1) Fall, 2007.

Schwier, Ryan. (2008). The Brick and Mortar of Information: Preserving Indiana’s Historic Public Libaries. Indiana Libaries 27 (1) 2008.

Trinkley, Michael. (1992). Preservation Concerns in Construction and Remodeling of Libraries: Planning for Preservation. South Carolina State Library, Columbia. September, 1992.

Children’s Space


 Children's Reference Desk at White Plains Public Library, New York (Kenney, p. 9)

Children’s Reference Desk at White Plains Public Library, New York (Kenney, p. 9)


Children’s Space

Ever since World War I, children have had separate programs and spaces in public libraries.  When setting up a children’s section it is crucial to recognize the importance of setting up an appropriate space for both the children and their guardians.  There are a few different factors to keep in mind when setting up a children’s space in a library.  Some of these factors include materials used and available, the different areas needed and safety issues.

 Materials Used and Available


According to Jennifer Knisely, libraries should first consider the types of surfaces on the floors, counters, cabinets and tables (p. 36).  Washable surfaces are always a plus because they cut down on replacement costs.  It is also important to have appropriate storage available for toys, puppets and books but that the storage should also be accessible to all children whatever the age because this will help to “foster a sense of autonomy among the children… and will help provide an overall welcoming sense for all patrons” (Knisely, p. 28).  Labeling shelves and other storage areas with both pictures and print is also beneficial for child development.  Furniture is another important feature to consider.  Obviously, child-sized chairs and tables are needed, but children are usually accompanied by adults who also need their own seating.  Many libraries include rocking chairs or oversized chairs to allow parents to read to their children while the child is seated in their lap (Sannwald, p. 132).


 Lighting, both natural and artificial, is also a factor to consider when setting up a children’s €space in a library.  Natural light from windows or skylights is considered crucial; experts write “individuals of all ages have a strong preference for natural lighting, agreeing that daylight improves their moods “(Knisely, p. 32).  Windows also provide children with a look at elements in the outside world such as weather, seasons, and time of day, which librarians can incorporate in their programming (Knisely, p. 30).  Therefore it would be beneficial to build windows at a child’s eye level with safe and sturdy glass.


 Electronic resources are also a must for children’s spaces.  According to William Sannwald, media and electronic workstations are extremely popular in children’s areas “because kids have a natural affinity to electronic information and media” (p. 132).  Many libraries are including computers and other electronic resources in the children’s area and are building separate computer labs for children.  Pictured below is an example of a children’s computer lab at the White Plains Public Library in New York (Kenney, p 11).  Notice the amount of color and vibrancy that would not be in an adult computer lab.

 Computer Lab 

Different Areas


 Within the children’s area there should be areas for separate things.  There should be active areas for play and there should be quiet areas as well for reading and more “one-on-one interaction among children and caregiver (Knisely, p. 37).   The quiet area should promote a sense of bonding and calmness and traffic should not be routed through the quiet area.  Materials that promote active play should be stored in the active areas and materials for quiet or individual play should be stored in the quiet areas.


 In modern children library spaces, one must keep in mind that the layout needs to consider various “family-specific needs” (Knisely, p. 32).  There needs to room to maneuver strollers and car seats through the aisles.  There should be a place to store strollers and car seats without being in the way of child exploration.  Furthermore, librarians should keep in mind that the children’s section of the library will not be a quiet zone.  Jennifer Knisely points out that it is developmentally appropriate for children to make noise and that librarians should not stifle children’s creativity and social interaction by shushing the children if their noise level rises above a whisper (p. 29)


 Here is an example of a children’s library space layout design.  This is at the White Plains Public Library in New York (Kenney, p. 9).  Notice that each section has its own theme.



Here is another example of a children’s room library layout design.  This design was for Nyack Library in New York (Kuzyk, p. 8).



Safety Issues


 Safety is a huge consideration when it comes to layout.  As mentioned above, surfaces should be selected that are washable.  This cuts down on replacement costs but it also is easier to sanitize and thus less likely to spread diseases and germs.  All electrical outlets and sharp corners should be child proofed and heating units should be barricaded off so that children do not accidently burn themselves.  Small toys and plants should be monitored carefully less they end up in a child’s mouth.  Furthermore, everything should be cleaned and sanitized regularly



Kenney, B. (2006). Welcome to the Fun House. Library Journal (1976) part Library by Design, spring 2006, 8-13.


Knisely, J.S. Children’s Library Space Support Emergent Literacy. Bookmobile and Outreach Services, 9 (1), 27-39.


Kuzyk, R. (2007). Nyack Library, NY: Putting “Wow in Children’s Room. Library Journal (1976) part Library by Design, Spring 2007, 8.


Sannwald, W. (2007). Designing Libraries for Customers. Library Administration and  Management, 21 (3), 131-138.



Discussion Questions



What do you believe is the most important feature in the layout of a children’s room?


If you were to design your own children’s library room, what theme or themes would be included?


What programs do you believe are crucial for a children’s room?


What are your thoughts on the fact that the children’s section was barely mentioned in  AIA and ALA Library Building Awards?