Whether you are planning and designing a new library or just the refurbishment of an old one there is no doubt it is a very exciting prospect. However after the first flush of excitement begins to wane, most librarians faced with the prospect of planning a new library or a major renovation move directly into panic mode. Careful forward planning however, is the key to success. Here are some hints and tips to help.

  • The Prep School Library Guidelines. These are definitely worth consulting as they offer the recommended level of provision for all Prep School libraries. LIPSSEE members are supplied with a copy when they join, but copies are also available from the group’s co-ordinator, Denise Reed.
  • School Library Association (SLA) publications: ‘Designs for All Reasons: Creating the Environment for the Primary School Library’ by Michael Dewe and Sally Duncan (2018) and‘Beyond Beanbags: Designing Inspirational Secondary School Library Spaces’by Geoff Dubber (2016).
  • The library planning committee. If your school has appointed one then ensure you have a place on it! After all they are designing your space, and no-one knows better than you how it should work!
  • Visit other libraries. Many LIPSSEE members have recently refurbished their libraries so do arrange to view as many as you can to obtain ideas. Take the opportunity to discuss any pitfalls that they may have encountered along the way.
  • Consult staff and children. It is important to discover how library users view their library and what they would like to see in their new space
  • De-clutter an old library. This is a must! Be ruthless and give it a really good weed. This breathes new life into it by providing books that are left with more space and leaving room for lots of new stock.    However, weeding a school library collection is not just a matter of making space, it’s also all about the impression an untended collection gives to your children. If your books look out-of-date and old-fashioned, many children will think there’s nothing exciting there to discover!
  • Decide how the new library will be used? For whole class visits, group work, one-to-one reading, prep sessions, off-games? Will it be used for research purposes and teaching information literacy skills as well as reading? Will children use the library independently say at break times? Will it be used for staff meetings, parent evenings etc?  If the latter applies, for example, then shelving should be on castors, so it can easily be pushed to one side to make a bigger space. Tables and chairs need to be stackable too. Modern libraries are very much about mobility and being able to alter the space. Think through what type of furniture and space you might need to meet these various requirements, for example do you need bean bags, tables and chairs, if so how many tables seating how many children at each? Ideally you should be able to seat a whole class in the library at any one time. What is the impact of this on the look and feel of the space – in my experience if a school tries to include too many tables and chairs the library starts to look and feel like a classroom and the books and reading become secondary. In many schools space is at a premium so if you try and get the library to accommodate too many functions it ends up doing nothing well and the positive library experience is lost. A balance has to be struck between funky, exciting furniture that will entice children into the space and  offering a relaxed, comfortable setting for them to read in. At the end of the day children love nothing better than little nooks and crannies with lots of soft seating where they can hide themselves away and read
  • Which year groups will be using the library? Will the whole school use the library? Do you need separate areas for KS2 and KS3 children as they have very different needs? Or a separate AR section perhaps?
  • What type and how many books will be kept in the library? Along with separate fiction and non-fiction sections will you have picture books, newspapers, magazines, graphic novels – are CDs/DVD too outdated now to be included?  Picture books and graphic novels, for example are better displayed face-on so need appropriate displayers! A couple of things to consider – some schools believe the more books they can fit in the library the better, however research shows that fewer books well displayed will be read more frequently than hundreds of spine-out books with no covers visible. Do not keep banded/guided reading books in your library, sometimes space means that you don’t have an option but if you want the library to be a child-centred, independent reading hub it’s not a good idea to take up too much space with books that are either only accessed by teachers or where the children’s choice is restricted to a particular range and/or colour.
  • What are your IT requirements? You will need a computerised library management system but the need for rows and rows of computer work stations in a library is a thing of the past.  Technology has moved on and become more mobile.  A bank of iPads is now more the order of the day! If you plan to teach lessons in the library perhaps consider a Smart board or an Apple TV, at very least a screen and projector!
  • Will it be a themed library space? (A forest or castle perhaps?) A themed library can certainly create a ‘wow’ factor. Creating a themed library taps into children’s imaginations it is no longer a library but a place of dreams and adventure. It will lay down memories for pupils of their first school library that will stay with them into adulthood but it is not for everyone. Some schools prefer to look at a more classic range of shelving and perhaps feel a theme would constrain or reduce the possibilities for the space
  • Will you employ a library design company? If so the best results are achieved when the school’s vision for their library is combined with the design company’s expert understanding of how library spaces work. It’s a fine balance. If the designer tries to impose their ideas on the school the resultant library may not meet the school’s specific needs. However, if the school has very fixed ideas about what should go into the library and where it should be sited there is a risk that the potential of the space will not be maximised. So how to strike the ideal balance? The best approach is for the school to think through how they plan to use the library, which year groups will be using it and when, what type and how many books are going to be displayed, and the type of furniture required. This information is then handed over to the designers who are well placed to plot these requirements onto a library plan. They are in touch with library trends, they have a knack of being able to not only visualise what will fit where but also what looks good  What’s more, they ensure all the health and safety considerations are taken care of. Many design companies will visit the library in person and provide free no-obligation plans – these are the companies to go for! Invite in more than one – preferably two or three – so you have a good range of designs and costs! I have known schools use the designs and then have the furniture made up in-house or bought in separately! Bit cheeky – but has been done! Avoid those companies that ask you to send plans of your new library space to them to work on in their offices – they completely lack the personal touch. From personal experience I would advise not to go too whacky on design! The ‘Wow factor’ can sometimes interfere with the effective functioning of your library! There is no doubt white shelving makes a library seem light and bright but it gets dirty, and if you want to buy add-on spinners or magazine racks etc in the future they tend to be produced in wood, or primary colours but never white! So nothing matches! Wavy and irregular shelving looks amazing but it makes filing and searching for books extremely difficult as nothing follows on as one would expect it to! Reading circles (our pupils have renamed ours ‘Hobbit Holes’) are immensely popular and can be seen in many of the children’s sections of our public libraries but they they take up a huge amount of space. Plus they cost £1000 apiece! We also have bubble tubes, which are lovely but they are only switched on when we have tours of visiting parents because the teachers say they are too distracting!  Heads tend to throw money at refurbs but careful planning and design is really what is needed.



Useful websites for deign ideas, sources of advice, information and resources

Creating a primary school library by Anne Thompson

Designing an effective school library – art or science? by Alison Tarrant                                                                                               *Eagle House is a member of LIPSSEE and their library is on the Book Space website – 


A selection of design companies used by LIPSSEE members,

(Posted by Denise Reed on 8 March, 2019)





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