Redesigning your school library

Mark Hubbard  |  December 14, 2017  |  Cafe & Lounge, Library

Redesigning your school library requires rethinking how you want the space to function—and what new roles you would like it to serve. As technology becomes an increasingly important part of education, and as teaching and learning continue to evolve, how will these shifts affect the use of your library space?

Through the website DiscoverDesign.org, the Chicago Architecture Foundation offers a series of design challenges for students. One of the these challenges is to redesign the school library space. Although this challenge is intended for students, the advice it contains applies equally well to K-12 leaders.

According to DiscoverDesign, here are three key steps to follow in the redesign process.

Gather information.

You can’t propose a new solution until you have fully assessed your needs. To do this effectively, you should involve all stakeholders in the process, so you are getting input from multiple perspectives. Here are some action steps to guide you.

  • Articulate an overarching mission or purpose for your school library. If its purpose used to be proving access to information, what is its purpose today? This could be helping students make sense of the information around them, making sure they know how to find the information they need, or preparing them to be effective digital citizens, to give a few examples.
  • List all the needs you would like your school library to serve. Include every function you can think of that would advance the mission or purpose you have just articulated. Don’t be afraid to be creative or expansive; you’ll have a chance to whittle this list down later. For now, let your only limit be your imagination.
  • List all of the features you like about your existing library setup. Then, consider all the ways your current library is not very well designed or doesn’t meet the needs you outlined in the previous step.
  • Survey or interview students, teachers, and library staff to get their feedback on these questions. What new features or functions would they like to see in their school library? What changes would they make to the current space if they had the chance?
  • Measure the dimensions of your current library. Take photos of the existing space. Consider how many students it should be able to accommodate during a given class period, as well as how many books and additional resources you will need to make space for.
  • Research how other schools have redesigned their library spaces. This guidebook is a good start, but you can also search online and visit neighboring school districts to get additional ideas.

Brainstorm ideas.

Once you have gathered this information, the next step is to think about the implications of your findings. Then, you can begin sketching out some rough ideas for how to approach the space. Here are some suggestions to guide you.

  • Form a design committee that includes students, teachers, library staff, and parents. This will ensure that all stakeholder groups are represented in the design process.
  • Prioritize your needs and goals. Consider which uses of the space are most important to you. Make separate lists for the functions that are non-negotiable, those you’d like to accommodate if you can fit them into your budget, and those you can live without.
  • Think about the design elements that will enable you to meet the goals you’ve deemed most important. For instance, if one of your goals is to make the library an inviting place where students will want to gather, might a café make sense as part of the design? If a goal is to foster creativity and technology skills, should you consider adding a maker space?
  • Identify the design elements you like from libraries in other schools or districts, and consider how you can incorporate those ideas into your own project.
  • Sketch out a rough floor plan of your redesigned library space. Start thinking about where the various design elements you’d like to include might fit.

Develop a solution.

Once you have some rough ideas in mind, you can begin establishing a final plan. At this stage, it might make sense to bring in an architect to help you with your planning. Here is some other advice as well.

  • As you’re designing the space, consider what types of furniture would be most appropriate, based on how you envision the space will be used. Also, consider what kinds of media you will need, such as large screen monitors or interactive whiteboards, “huddle stations” to support collaboration, or video conferencing equipment. 
  • Think about the role that lighting plays in the space, and how you can bring more natural lighting to bear.
  • As you are drafting your plans, consider what kind of budget you have and how this might impact the final design.
  • Run your initial ideas by students and staff for their approval. Ask for their input, and incorporate this feedback into the final design process.
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