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Planning for your library shelving

The school and college library plays an ever increasing role in shaping the future of our students. An attractive library space can create a destination for students, attracted by a modern library with new furnishings, learning materials, technology and services. It’s no secret that young people can be put off by the negative stereotypes of quiet, dingy libraries but now is the time to reconnect with your students and create modern, comfortable and welcoming library interiors with new furnishings and technology.

Identify requirements

  • Total book stock and other material or media i.e. magazines, DVDs, CDs etc.
  • Consider age groups, number and types of readers - this will have a bearing on the height of shelving and furniture
  • Number of study spaces - size and type and preferred layout i.e. table, single or group study carrels
  • Mood - what sort of atmosphere are you trying to create?

Spatial requirements

Quite often the book stock will represent the largest single requirement for furniture i.e. the book shelving. As a guide:

  • For children’s picture books allow approx. 60 titles per 900mm shelf length
  • For general fiction/non-fiction approx. 30-35 books per 900mm shelf length
  • In secondary schools and colleges, shelving may be taken up to 1800mm high, giving five shelves per bay. Having established the number of shelves and bays required, consider the types of shelving available to use:
  • Wall Fixed Units - should only be used on solid walls. They have the advantage of being less expensive and can be fitted above radiators and heating pipes. However, they are not as easy to remove or relocate
  • Wall Free-standing Units - can be used against solid or partition walls. Easily removed and relocated. Disadvantage - cannot be fitted around radiators or heating pipes
  • Double-sided Island Units - provide compact, free-standing storage. The benefit of using Island Units is to allow easy access to material on both sides. Units can be placed in straight rows or positioned at angles to make effective use of space
  • Mobile Island Units - should generally be no more than two bays long and four shelves high (1500mm). For safety, locking castors should always be fitted. These units provide complete flexibility and are perfect for multi-purpose rooms

Function and purpose

Identify the role of the library - is it just to act as a resource for books and learning; will it also be used as a class study centre; double up as a classroom or be an IT/learning centre? Consulting with users and those involved with the school can be very useful and will ensure that you create a library that is relevant as well as functional.

Get the right mood

The right furnishings, colour schemes and accessories can change a library at a glance. It should be a destination to study, to socialise with peers and to have some personal space to dip into, not only books but magazines, DVDs and lifestyle resources.

To discard the image of a library being predominantly quiet, think about creating:

  • Areas or hubs for specific needs and uses
  • Optional areas for quiet reading or study using study tables
  • More relaxed, informal reading areas with magazine storage and display
  • Comfortable, soft furnishings such as bean bags and sofas for students to relax
  • Areas for class/group discussions with larger tables
  • Music areas with comfortable seating for some personal space
  • A space with some level of acceptable noise

Exam time

This is a key time when young people are highly motivated to look for places to study, revise and get support and assistance on coursework from Tutors and Librarians. The school or college library can offer a place of privacy and quiet which may not be available at home or in the classroom.

When planning your library, think about the busy times and look at flexible layouts and furnishings that can be re-jigged to cope with extra demand. Consider furniture designed for easy stacking and storage when not in use. Screens can create temporary work space areas and give students and staff some valuable space.

Last but not least

Once you have your new library, don’t forget the everyday essentials such as good quality book supports to keep your book stock orderly and book coverings to extend the life of your collection.

Quality, durability and flexibility are as important as the costs being within budget. Free delivery is often available on orders over a certain amount and, remember, most furnishings are available in a range spanning from economy through to top end. With heavy student wear and tear, it may not always be economical to go for the cheapest option. Look for functionality, sustainability and overall value for