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#uklibchat summary- Library design – 3rd June 2014

A summary of our April chat on reading can be found below.  A full archive of the chat can be found at


1. What outstanding design features have you seen in library buildings? (Your own or others)

Some fantastic designs were shared for this question, including:

2. What design pitfalls should be avoided at all costs?

It looks like everyone shares a dislike of atriums in libraries – it is difficult to regulate noise and temperature in a large open area – but they are very popular with architects.

The other big issue discussed was poor signage and wayfinding. The University of York and Anglia Ruskin University were given as examples of good signage, which use images and colour coding rather than a wall of text. Plasma screens and other electronic signs can help to cut down on the number of posters and notices needed.

Other things to be avoided were garish colours and patterns, heavy/inflexible furniture, bean bags, off-putting barriers between users and staff.

Staff spaces are often neglected but this leads to upset staff who don’t feel invested in.

However @Preater pointed out that it is difficult to  pick things to avoid “at all costs” because you are always constrained by things not under your control.

3a. What skills are required when planning a new library building/refurbishment project?

Common themes were:

  • Good communication & negotiation skills – and the ability to say no!
  • Thorough consultation with users (& non-users) – and evaluation of the results
  • Strategic thinking
  • Flexibility/an open mind

3b. If you have been involved in a library design project, what kinds of surveys/engagement with users did you do?

Surveys – post-its, electronic surveys, asking students to pick preferred image from lots of pairs of images of library spaces.

Consultation/focus groups, inviting users and staff to meet with architects and designers.

Small-scale pilot projects – e.g. get a small amount of the intended furniture first and get honest feedback.

Engaging non-users as well – finding out where people study outside of the library, eaching out  rather than expecting them to come to you (one library posted up plans for new building by the lunch queue). Find out if they are “can’t-users” instead.

4. Have you got any advice on working with architects/suppliers etc.?

A few people emphasised how important it is to check & recheck the designs as it is easy for things to creep on/off the design as it goes through many iterations.

@LibClare‘s library found talking to a psychologist very useful in understanding how people use space. Users could also complete diary exercises, and there are apps that can help with this (e.g. People Watcher)

Make sure that the designs will actually work by using established suppliers, visit libraries already using the supplier and ask them questions. Fancy shelving designs can turn out to be impractical when they are actually in use (e.g. slippery metal shelves, curved or shaped shelves which are less practical for fitting in books). Staff expertise and user evidence needs to balance out the architects’ emphasis on aesthetics.

5. How are you responding to changing user needs in your library buildings/space?

Examples of good practice included flexible spaces/furniture, teaching digital literacy and providing tech services, integrating technology such as GPS/RFID to improve customer experience, creative use of staff.

However it is not always possible to respond to changing needs as quickly as we would like. Lack of funding and support can restrict how well a library can adapt.

There is also the danger of trying too hard to please everyone and to be flexible but ending up with an incoherent design that pleases no-one.

We agreed on the need to keep consulting with users and not making assumptions about their needs.

@PennyB and @SamanthaClare pointed out the importance of thinking about people who are excluded from using our services, and thinking about accessibility on a deeper level than just the legal aspects. Very few library designs go further than thinking about wheelchair access when considering accessibility. This was a very valuable discussion and we will be hosting a separate chat on the subject of accessibility in a few months as I’m sure there is a lot more to talk about here.

6. How do you persuade larger organisations to invest in library spaces?

Top tips:

  • Share success stories – show off the value you are adding
  • Make the library a hub of relevant services – make it the place to be
  • Demonstrate how the library helps your organisation achieve its business objectives

7. Where is your favourite space for research/study and why? (It doesn’t have to be a library space)

Some preferred to “nest” with all their papers and books spread out within arm’s reach. Others preferred a “hot-desk” approach, working in a different spot each time depending on their mood. For some, it was important to be near a window with lots of light, others find sitting by a window too distracting. Several people mentioned the British Library reading rooms as a great spot to work. The wide range of responses to this question emphasised how important it is for a library to provide a variety of types of study space.

One comment on “#uklibchat summary- Library design – 3rd June 2014

  1. Pingback: - Massachusetts Construction Blog

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This entry was posted on June 15, 2014 by in Discussion Summaries and tagged , , , , .


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