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5 Ways to Improve Your School’s Library Design

Posted on Oct 12, 2016, by Mike Patrick

Your school’s library makes a vital contribution to student success, complementing classroom learning and providing an additional learning environment.

Research has repeatedly shown how important classroom design is for student performance and outcomes, and it’s clear that this holds true for all learning environments, not just traditional classrooms. Therefore, your school’s library design is just as important as classroom design.

Today I’m looking at the biggest design problems facing school libraries, and offering advice to help you tackle these problems head-on, to improve your school library design and improve student performance.

Featured image: Independence Library, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA.
Design Firm: Office Environments.

The 3 Biggest Problems with School Library Designs

1) Excessive Noise Levels

“Though the days of ‘silence in the library’ are long behind us, balancing social, interactive spaces with the need for quiet study remains a challenge.” - Designing Libraries & Learning Centres for Good Acoustics

The link between noise levels and academic performance is well-documented, with teachers identifying noise levels as one of the most important environmental features that affect the quality of their teaching. Managing ambient (background) noise levels is the biggest challenge for school libraries, as noise levels will fluctuate massively depending on how the space is being used.

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2) Technology Integration

Technology is playing an ever-increasing part in lessons, because it encourages active learning and improves student engagement in class.

As a result, classrooms are increasingly being designed to incorporate technological flexibility, by providing ample access to power sockets. However, school libraries seem to be lagging behind, with technological integration limited to desktop computers and with a limited number of available power sockets.

3) Suitability for Different Uses

School libraries are used in lots of different ways throughout the day. From whole-class sessions, to small groups working on projects, to independent, individual study sessions, your school’s library needs to be flexible enough to accommodate individuals and groups of varying sizes.

How to Improve Your School’s Library Design

1) Sort out the Acoustics

Background noise levels are a huge challenge for school libraries, so it’s imperative that you make design changes to reduce ambient noise levels. There are 3 main ways you can do that:

  • Installing soft furnishings such as upholstered chairs or sofas. These absorb more sound than hard-surface furniture like bookshelves and desks. While this will help to improve ambient noise levels a little, it won’t make a huge difference.
  • Installing acoustical ceiling tiles. These look like regular ceiling tiles but are specially designed to absorb sound, rather than reverberating it through the space. This is especially important for school libraries, which tend to be one big, open space with no walls to block sound.
  • Install cushion-backed carpet. Like acoustical ceiling tiles, this will help to reduce ambient noise levels, and will also help to reduce structure-borne sound (like chairs scraping on the floor, or heavy footfall). Cushion-backed carpet tiles absorb 50% more noise than hardback carpet, which in turn absorbs 3x more noise than hard-surface flooring – which can make a real difference to the acoustic environment in your school library.

2) Build-in Technological Flexibility

“Pupils are increasingly likely to be using a computer for research as well as traditional printed materials from books and magazines.” - Good School Libraries: Making a Difference to Learning

To enable increased technology use in your library, you’ll need to provide access to power sockets throughout the space, so that students can use laptops and tablets for group or individual study. Some companies have developed power distribution products that use carpet tiles to conceal power tracks running throughout the space. Alternatively, you could choose to have power sockets embedded in the floor.

3) Zone Different Spaces for Different Uses

You may wish to create different spaces for different uses - for example, small pods or breakout zones designed to provide quiet spaces for individual learning, set away from the main library space. Alternatively, if your school doesn’t want to separate out its library space, and you prefer the flexibility that comes from having one large, open space, then you could zone the space through use of color - such as in your choice of flooring, furniture and decor.

Featured image: Snohomish Library

4) Prevent Mold and Mildew

Some public libraries have a familiar “musty” smell, and this can often be caused by mold and mildew problems.

For school libraries, where student health and wellness is a primary concern, preventing mold and mildew is a top priority across campus. Mold and mildew can trigger allergies, as well as cause a whole host of other respiratory problems and health concerns.

The leading cause of mold and mildew is moisture, so if your school is able to tackle moisture problems head-on, you can dramatically reduce the risk of mold and mildew developing in your library, and across campus.

In the majority of cases, mold develops under your flooring first, thanks to moisture from the subfloor or changing water table levels. Therefore, it’s vital that you choose flooring that can protect your building against mold and mildew. Carpet with antimicrobial properties will be a big help, as will moisture-wicking carpet, which allows moisture from the subfloor to travel through the carpet and evaporate away at the carpet tile seams, removing the moisture rather than trapping it under the flooring and creating a breeding ground for mold and mildew.

5) Create a Welcoming Environment

School environments have a significant impact on student engagement levels, absence rates and student success. Your choice of lighting, furniture, carpet and decor all have a huge impact on the visual environment of your school’s library; you want to create a bright, welcoming space that students enjoy using.

GatewayElementary_Library.jpegFeatured image: Gateway Elementary, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Design firm: RDG Planning & Design

Good lighting levels are important in all learning environments: exposure to natural light during the day has been shown to boost student engagement with their learning. As many libraries have high shelves which block light, it can be difficult to maintain light levels throughout the library. Installing daylighting systems can help with this (but are expensive and not always practical to install), but otherwise your choice of artificial lighting can help to supplement natural lighting in less well-lit areas of the library.


Mike Patrick

Written by Mike Patrick