Library redesign – checklist

One of the librarians on a FB group I’m in asked me if I had a check-list for our library redesign.  Which made me realise that no, I didn’t. I’ve more or less had a running checklist in my mind all year, and particularly since I did INF536 – Designing Spaces for Learning (you can see more posts under category INF536). But I think it’s probably time to get all that stuff out of the swirling mind space and onto paper – and please – if I’ve missed anything feel free to add in some comments below.

(and please read this article – it’s gold! : Schlipf, F. (2011). The dark side of library architecture: The persistence of dysfunctional designs. Library Trends, 60(1), 227–255. Retrieved from; another ‘must read’ is “design thinking for libraries“)


  1. Know your current space
  2. Know your usage / pathways
  3. Know your collection


  1. Write it down
  2. Take photos (of what you have and what you want)
  3. Take videos (time lapse)
  4. Walk people through it
  5. Invite them to spend time in the space
  6. Have a shared (google) document / folder
  7. Involve everyone who uses the space in the process

Design iteration

  1. Make sure everything is as flexible / moveable as possible
  2. For the immovable / inflexible bits keep asking for second / third / fourth / 99th opinions – you don’t want to get that wrong
  3. Keep on finding and showing them pictures of what’s in your head – make it really concrete, so that you can go back and say “not like that, like this”
  4. Don’t be scared to ask for changes now – before it’s too late
  5. Be careful you don’t create book/people ghettos if you have multiple physical spaces
  6. Don’t forget the furniture
  7. Involve the marketing department and admissions – the library is a showcase and they’re going to want to have a say in the look and feel
  8. Involve your staff – often they’ve been around longer than you have!
  9. Involve students and parents – it’s their space too

Elements – Space

In my previous post I wrote at length about the space we have and the issues it has.

One of the things that we will have in the enlarged space is one wall will be knocked down, but another wall is structural, so that’s going to create a classroom space. The designers put bookshelves on both of the side walls, but that created the problem of which part of my collection I’d actually put into that space (see my comment about creating a book / person ghetto.

As a result I went back and had a relook at my collections.  This involved me looking at all parts of my collection,

  1.  Itemising how many physical books there were in that part of the collection (i.e. for us that was board books, picture books; junior fiction; junior series; fiction; fiction series; world language; nonfiction; literacy circle kits; graphic novels; reference; teacher resources; “too hot to loan” read in the library books; picture books for older students; wordless books; Chinese collection; poetry; fairy tales and legends; etc )- now is your time to genrify or to group or extract parts of the collection as you’d desire.
  2. Working out how much shelf space (length, breadth, height) each part of the collection needs typically (bearing in mind how much of the collection is in circulation at any time). Height is particularly relevant for the picture books and junior books. Accessibility is always an issue. Also think about having enough space for front facing books at the end of each shelf section, how much space boxes take up for your series so you can adjust your requested shelf length (I have wasted space here).  In the first design iteration, the designers gave me 49m2 of shelf space, and we calculated we had 72m2 of space in use… Don’t assume they’re going to measure and calculate – check! Even after the third lot of design drawings I was chasing them to put shelf heights in the drawings.
  3. Think about how you want to group bits of your collection. Besides the obvious zone of Kindergarten /  lower elementary / upper elementary and nonfiction, I want to keep my board books “fun to read in the library” books like graphic novels, “too hot”, poetry, wordless and picture books for older students books together. And ensure the latter are near a seating zone.
  4. Weed, weed, weed. I still need to do more of this, and the deadline is looming. I need to get rid of all the “just in case” books, all the ugly discoloured no-one wants to borrow books. All the books about baseball (no one ever borrows anything where baseball is a main feature). All the books that are great for a North American environment but fail to find an audience here – even amongst our North American students.

That’s left me with the question what to put in the “classroom” shelves – and that also affects the type of shelving. Then at the 11th hour, the principal decided that all the “learning to read” PM readers; all 350 boxes of them, also had to come into the library. Well, that solved the problem of what to put in that space, but also meant that those shelves would need (sliding) doors so they weren’t an eye-sore of file boxes.  It also meant we needed more shelving in the main part of the library to make up our needed M2 of shelving.

Elements – furniture

If I hadfliptable no money for anything else, and the whole thing fell apart, the one thing I would still try to do is to get better (non-shelving) furniture in the library. I get the feeling we’ve been a bit of the “hand-me-down” zone, and the furniture is just not appropriate. My checklist for furniture would be:

  1. Light – little people need to be able to move it around
  2. Moveable and stackable – chairs should be stackable and tables should be able to be locked vertically
  3. Size-appropriate – all our tables and chairs are adult size, since we cater for 3-13 year olds, we’ll need to hit around the 9-10 year mark (the littlies usually don’t use the tables and chairs)
  4. Safe – no bits sticking out, everything must be tucked in under the tables, nothing to trip over. The first 3-D images showed big bean-bag chairs and my first thought was –  they’ll be used as slides and launching pads to jump off of! Think like a 6 year old when reviewing this.
  5. Clusterable – communal reading is a big thing in our library. Very few students sit down and read on their own (and most who do will go into the swivel chair and swing it to face the wall).

Elements – flow

This really has three parts

  1. the flow in the library – entry and exit (especially if one class is trying to check-out / line-up / exit at the same time as another class is trying to enter / check-in / sit down.
  2. The work process flow – circulation, shelving, curating books for UOIs / classrooms / processing new books
  3. The flow during recess / break-time and after or before school. (I have videos, but my wordpress free plan won’t let me upload them!)

Elements – Signage and discoverability

As I write this, I realise that we haven’t paid nearly enough attention to this in the design phase. At the back of my mind I have the idea that this can be an “add-on” at least for the physical bits. In a sense you create discoverability by ensuring your “pathways” are logical and you group elements of your collection together.  But discoverability is a never-ending issue in all libraries.  Our current signage is terrible. I particularly like how HKA has done their signage – big and yellow and unmissable.

Elements – lighting

Page one Hong Kong (picture by Dianne Mackenzie)

This is really big, and I really don’t know enough about it all, and that’s worrying me. Schlipf (2011) writes about it at length in his article. On the one hand I’m glad it’s not that complicated in our case, in the other … how to set right what’s pretty bad. We have florescent downlighting, light from windows on three sides (one of which will be blocked by shelving).

One really has to spend time in stores, particularly book stores to see the ones who get it right. I keep on telling my designers “I’m selling books, treat me like a retailer”!

I’m going to go back and re-read the library design-thinking handbook to see if I’ve missed anything.

PLEASE comment! I’m so terribly scared I’m missing anything and I’ll get it all wrong!

(here is the completed series of posts:

3 thoughts on “Library redesign – checklist

  1. Hi Nadine

    Your blog post about library space is amazing! I love how you made it a whole community decision and offer the opportunity for input because yes, the more minds to bring in different aspects, the better. I also saved that Library Design handbook a few months ago.

    I’ll definitely read it through again but just off the top of my head you might want to add a point about sufficient electrical outlets. This might go hand in hand with the point about lighting. I’ve read this before in other people’s posts about re-designing their space and how important it is to have plenty of outlets, not just in the walls but in the floors, near space that is used for working, individually and in groups. Of course this would have link to the moveable spaces so that they would not be lost when re-arranging things.

    Another thought is when talking about moveable spaces, maybe just specify various levels of individual, single class, larger groups. Additionally, will there be any other events in the library, say after school or in the evenings? (Part of what I would like to see happen in the library where I work but that we don’t have time or manpower for yet, is a lecture or talk series in the evenings. Yes, when we have a visiting author we do something for the whole school in the evening, but it could be more than this and draw upon our very well-educated and knowledgeable community. This would like have to be in conjunction with our Community Relations Dept. but as I’m not the team leader, and although I’ve mentioned this in the past, it’s just a wish or an idea.)

    Thank you so much for sharing this!


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