Overview: The Importance of Planning and Design

School libraries are academic havens for students seeking resources such as books, research materials, and access to technology. Therefore, it is imperative that libraries are designed to suit the needs of their patrons. Traditionally, school libraries have been very formal spaces, "designed as a place where information is acquired, housed, managed, and assessed"(Somerville & Brown-Sica, 2011, p. 669). However, in recent years the emergence of technology and student - centered pedagogy has prompted school librarians to re-evaluate the library space and develop these spaces with student engagement in mind.

The school library is a space that is utilized by students, teachers, faculty members, community members, librarians. It is important that the space is designed and configured to suit the needs of these stakeholders. The school library should be considered an instructional space; therefore, in addition to physical collections, the library should also be equipped with instructional tools such as projectors, projection screens, and computers to ensure that the library functions to support academic instruction.

Use and Users

The school library is a place in which students, faculty, and even community members can obtain access to information. Therefore, it is important for facility planners to design a library space that accommodates all users. Authors of "New Design Considerations That Transform the Library into an Indispensable Learning Environment", recommend that facility planners involve students and facility members in planning process to ensure that their needs are met. They state, "Consult with the faculty and students concerning what they would like to see included in the collection on an ongoing basis... because it emphasizes the concept that the collection belongs to the learning community" (Martin, Westmoreland,& Branyon, 2011, p. 18). Giving library users a voice allows them to take ownership over the space and its materials. When students and faculty have an opportunity to give input they are more apt to utilize the space to enhance their projects, to enrich literacy, and to facilitate lessons.


Comfortable Reading Area: Julian High School Library
Many students view the library as a space where they can find books or use technology: however, they rarely see all of the possibilities of what can be attained and achieved in a library. Library planners can be more purposeful in their design to ensure that students see all of the ways the library can be used to enhance the learning experience. In an effort to create more student-centered library spaces, librarians design facilities that cater to studentcollaboration, leisurely activities, and technological endeavors. For example, school libraries should include a space where students can work collaboratively on group projects. Equally important, is a space where students can sit comfortably to engage in leisurely activities or reading. Additionally, librarians should allocate a space where students can interact with different types of technology.

In an elementary school library, the facilities planner should include a space where students and faculty members can engage in read-alouds and story time together. This multi-purpose space will allow faculty members and students to interact together and have ample space for student-centered programs and activities.

Teachers and Faculty Members

Teachers using the library often use the space so that their students can use the technology or the collections; however, the library can also be a space where faculty members develop professionally, collaborate with colleagues and facilitate classes. Angie Branyon, Teacher-Librarian at the Glen Ellen High School notes that, "A physical library is the launching pad for lessons. Through the power of technology, lessons continue beyond the limit of four walls... Classroom interactive white boards and various technologies such as glogster, animoto, voice thread, ToonDoo, and prezi, etc. magnify the possibilities of lesson development" (Martin, Westmoreland,& Branyon, 2011, p.19). The inclusion of such resources often draw faculty to members into the library and consequently bring students into the library as well. Additionally, Branyon discusses how she included a workspace for teachers in the library so that they could collaborate with librarians and other colleagues to create learning opportunities for students.

Planning Considerations

Planning and designing a school library is an exhaustive process. The librarian and library staff members are integral to the planning and design process and should be collaborating with administration, staff, and architects to ensure that the library is a space that supports and enhances learning. According the Ohio Educational Library Media Association (OELMA), there are special considerations that library planning teams should evaluate when planning a space that supports student enrichment. These considerations include the following:
  • Unobstructed Sight Lines
  • Lighting/Windows
  • Flexibility
  • Location
  • Shelving
  • Circulation Desk

Unobstructed Sight Lines

When designing a school library it is imperative for library staff to supervise students, equipment, and collection materials. Therefore, it is important that librarians are able to conduct this supervision from most places within the library. Libraries are often supervised by a single staff member; therefore it is important that all activity occurring in the main reading/viewing area is visible from the circulation desk (OELMA, 2007). OELMA suggests that when designing the library there should be no obstructions such as tall shelving units in the direct sight lines of the circulation desk.

Lighting/ Windows

Lighting is complicated but valuable component of library design. Natural light is preferred over harsh florescent lighting because fluorescents tend the eliminate the warm and inviting feeling that librarians seek to evoke. However, natural lighting can often alter the quality of projected images. OELMA states, "Control of lighting levels and the ability to darken the reading room for projected presentations is essential. Blinds must be installed on all windows. Without blinds, screen glare may make computers unusable during certain times of the day" (OELMA, 2007, p.3). If librarians want to design a functional and flexible space, they may choose to opt for a room with an ample amount of natural but also include window treatments so that users can effectively use technology. Librarians may also consider the use of lamps to provide the space with more subtle and soft lighting options for various activities and programs.


Library designers have to consider the flexibility of a space if they expect it to be convenient for users. The library space needs to be accessible to all users even if users require accommodations for physical disabilities. Planners and designers must consider the needs of users with wheel chairs because they too should be able to access all of the materials in the library space. Information power: Guidelines for school library media programs prepared by the American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology asserts that "providing barrier-free routes for physically impaired patrons with particular attention to bookstack areas, catalog and circulation areas, and seating spaces" (American Association of School Librarians & Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 1988, p. 90) is an adequate measure to ensure that the library is accessible. Students in wheel chairs should be able to move throughout the aisles with ease, they should be able to fit under table spaces without being removed from their chairs and they should be able to enter and exit the library without difficulty.

Additionally, planners must consider the flexibility of the library's furnishings, specifically, the furnishings in elementary school libraries. Elementary school libraries have the potential to host students from grades K-8 and therefore the furnishings selected should be adjustable so that students of all ages and sizes are accommodated. Tables and computer desks should not be set too high and should be adjustable as well and the reference desk should be lowered to suit the needs of users large and small. Technology is ever changing and libraries have to be designed to support different types of technology, planners must also consider future technology, thus the library must be designed to adapt to future technologies. OELMA suggests that “'Excess' electric outlets and network drops should be part of the original construction to avoid future costly remodeling. Book shelving should be installed over carpeting to allow shelving to be moved or to be reconfigured"(OELMA, 2007, p.3). If these considerations are apart of the initial plan and design libraries will be prepared for technological advancements thus ensuring the longevity of the space.

Champaign Public Library is next to local middle school (Edison Middle School).

Library planners and designers agree that the library should be located near the center of the school so that it can be access easily by students and faculty members. The American Association of School Librarians and Association for Educational Communications and Technology propose that "Locating the center close to study areas facilitates frequent use and minimizes time lost in translation. When the auditorium, theatre, and large group areas are nearby and easily accessible, projection and recording equipment can be moved in and out quickly and efficiently" (American Association of School Librarians & Association for Educational Communications and Technology, 1988, p. 89). In other words, if the library is centrally located it will benefit users, faculty using the libraries resources will be to easily travel and transfer resources. Additionally, teachers traveling to the library with students will be able to make the trip quickly without losing much instructional time.


Library shelving should be strategically placed to avoid the obstruction of sight lines; OELMA advises that shelving be placed around the perimeter of the library (OELMA, 2007, p.3) Shelves should suit the needs of the users and should be age appropriate. Basically, shelves in elementary schools should be shorter so that they can be accessed by younger users while the shelves in middle schools and high schools should be taller to suit the needs of those users.

Circulation Desk

The Colonel Gray High School circulation desk is taller for more physically mature students but also has a lowered section that serves to aid students in wheel chairs.

The circulation desk is a very central part of the school library. Like shelving, the circulation desk should suit the age of the users, the circulation desk should be lowered for elementary students. OELMA advises that "to be ADA compliant, the desk must have a low section to accommodate students in wheelchairs" (OELMA, 2007, p.3). The circulation desk is a space where students and faculty often visit to seek help and it should not act as a "barrier" between the librarian and the users.
The Dupree Elementary School circulation desk features a lowered section suitable for younger users.


Resources are an extremely important component to the school library but equally important is library's design aesthetic. The library needs to be an inviting and attractive space to encourage and promote student and faculty usage.

Elementary School Libraries

The entrance to the Maplewood Library is designed in a fanciful manner to invite students.

Elementary school is a period where students are encouraged to explore, discover, engage, and learn; the library should reflect and support these ideals. There are many great design elements that librarians can employ to entice students into entering the space. In an article titled, "A cadre of talented architects is redesigning school libraries to boost student learning", Debra Lau discusses the importance of color and community in the library setting. Lau believe that the use of bold colors provides the library with a warmth that students are drawn to. Additionally, Lau mentions that facility planners should configure the library so that students have space to collaborate and build relationships. In her examination of school libraries, Lau interviews Henry Myerberg, author and designer of the Clara Barton School Library, Myerbergs believes that [library professionals] need to,"Rethink the library as the heart and the hub of the school; everything feeds into it," he says. That means inventing with the user in mind—introducing bold colors, direct and indirect lighting, cutting-edge technology, comfortable seating, soft rugs and pillows; and furniture that encourages the human touch. Interesting libraries make for interested students, therefore, librarians should consider bright and inviting colors, round tables that encourage community and collaboration amongst students, and comfortable reading areas with plush sofas and chairs. Librarians also may want to consider the use of plants, non-florescent lighting as florescent lighting looks institutional, floor-based seating areas complete with rugs and pillow for readings and author visits, and the use of artwork.

Secondary School Libraries

Like elementary school libraries secondary libraries should be inviting spaces; however, it is important that the design elements are reflective of high school user. While elementary school libraries focus more on community building, secondary libraries must also include stations for independent study and learning. Library designers should also be sure to include spaces the librarians can use to advertise and promote interesting books and collections.

Facilities Planning and Design (SL) Resources

Library Media Center Recommendations for the Ohio School Design Manual. The Ohio Educational Library Media Association.

ALA Building Libraries and Library Additions: A Selected Annotated Bibliography. American Library Association.

NCEF Resource List: Library and Media Center Facilities Design.
National Clearinghouse For Educational Facilities


American Association of School Librarians & Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (1988). Information power: Guidelines for school library media programs. American Library Associations. Chicago, IL.

Lau, D. (2002). A cadre of talented architects is redesigning school libraries to boost student learning. The Shape of Tomorrow. http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/article/CA198862.html.

Martin, A. M., Westmoreland, D. D., & Branyon, A. (2011). New design considerations that transform the library into an indispensable learning environment. Teacher Librarian. 38 (5), 15 - 20.

Somerville, M. M. & Brown-Sica, M. (2011). Library space planning: A participatory action research approach. The Electronic Library. 29 (5), 669 - 681