questionsWhat kind of lights are best for a library media center?

What is the best height for tables and chairs in a primary school library media center?

How do I determine how many shelves and bookcases to buy?

These are common questions of facilities planners.

This facilities section will identify many elements that should be considered in new building or renovation plan of a school library media center. The space recommendations are only starting points and are for schools serving less than 1,000 students.

The rest of this page provides a glossary of terms, definitions, and suggestions related to facilities.

Note: Much of the content in this section is based on historical or traditional ideas related to the types of spaces that a school library media centers once needed to contain. Previous reading has made you aware of recent trends related to school library facilities. New directions are emerging, and this information is provided as a basis for important and strategic facilities planning and decision making.

ADA Considerations. Consider all aspects of physical access including but not limited to elevators and ramps, aisle widths, floor space, entrances and exits, signage, furniture size and height, shelving, and restrooms. Identify needed adaptive technologies that include equipment, hardware and software. Alternative information formats may include Braille, large print, digitized speech, books-on-tape, real-time captioning for on-line conferencing, and captioned video programming.

Investigate and learn more (More resources at bottom of the webpage):

Air Quality. Children are generally more susceptible to indoor air pollutants than adults.

Learn about air quality issues:

Building Green. In recent years, people and communities have become increasingly concerned about building facilities with sustainable designs, using environmentally friendly materials, and incorporating 'green' procedures, and techniques for their operation. The goal is to increase the efficiency of building by reducing resource use (energy, materials, water) and reducing the building's impacts on human health and the environment throughout the facility's life. Situate the building in the best possible location; design, construct, operate, maintain, and eventually remove the building in a 'green' and sustainable fashion. Learn more about the Green Library Movement (More resources at bottom of the webpage):

"The philosophy behind environmentally friendly design sounds like common sense - - use resources wisely, recycle, an utilize native materials as much as possible. The complexity is in the implementation. How do you document the process, set priorities, and balance environmental concerns with the needs of patrons, staff, and taxpayers?"

Excerpted from Trotter, Dorothy Waterfall (Apr 2008). Going for the Green (Access requires login). American Libraries; 39(4), 40-43. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Ceilings. All ceilings should be light and bright and made of sound absorbent materials such as acoustical tile. Ceiling height is usually eight feet high however concern for energy usage and the architectural design may effect this size. If full size bookcases are used, height of ceilings become an issue.

Center Layout. An efficient design should allow for flexibility and multiple uses, and as much as possible, be easily adaptable for future curriculum and technology changes.

Example - check out Designs hare, an international forum for innovative schools.

Circulation / Information Area (500 – 800 sq. ft.). This area should adjacent to the main entrance and staff offices and workroom. If periodical storage is needed (sometimes replaced by online subscription database collections), storage area for those materials should be nearby. Staff offices and workroom should also be next to this area. Photocopy machine that once was located within or near this space have been replaced by scanning station. This space includes a display case or area.

Climate Control
. A system for heating and air is essential to maintain a temperature range (70-77 degrees) and control humidity (60%). The system for the library should be separately controlled, allowing the center to be regulated independently and allowing the facility to be used when school is not in session. Maintaining temperature and humidity are needed for the storage and preservation of equipment and materials.

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Colors. Colors of walls, fabrics, carpeting and other flooring materials, painted surfaces, wood stain, and furniture should be selected to work together and add to the overall visual appeal of the facility. Avoid selecting “trendy colors” of the decade that will soon date the center. Soft, muted neutral colors can add visual appeal.

Computer Data Network. The data network / Internet connectivity should be planned to meet expanding needs for computers / computing devices and the reception - transmission of data. Considerations include the amounts and types of data, data speed, surge protection, and interference. Today many schools are using wireless networks. Insure that the entire workspace domain is sufficiently covered and will meet future needs.

Computer Instruction (800 to 1,500 sq. ft). This space may be considered as a specialized instruction / group projects room (See below). Total room size / space is dependent of number of students - - 36 to 45 sq. ft. per person plus aisle and instructor / teacher space.

Computing workstations. These spaces can be integrated throughout the library; allow 36 to 45 sq. ft. for each computer or laptop workstation. Provide for adequate electrical outlets and device charging areas / stations. Again, plan for continued growth and expansion.

Conference Rooms / Small Groups Activities. Place in easily supervised area. Room(s) may have movable walls to allow for combining space for multiple use(s). Provide 30 sq. ft. for each seat. Example: capacity of 6 = 180 sq. ft.

Curriculum Planning Area (300 to 600 sq. ft.). This room should be adjacent or near to the teacher librarian’s office. It is used for collaborative planning and projects between teachers and library media specialists. The room should also have storage for curriculum collection and project materials.

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Display Area(s). Include areas for prominent display of student projects, new materials, exhibits, and artwork.

Distance Learning Classroom (1,600 sq. ft.). This room should be adjacent to the television studio.

Electrical Design. Conveniently locate switches and controls for electricity; avoid hiding them. Where multiple switches are needed, consider arranging them in a vertical fashion In order to conserve wall space.

The number of electrical outlets installed in the center must be sufficient to meet present and future needs. Include more outlets than you think are needed; locate outlets on all walls – even those that are to initially be covered by wall shelving. At some point in the future, use of the wall space may change and electricity be needed in the area. Do not just rely on a plan which specifies a certain number of outlets per linear feet, locate and space them appropriately around the room. Specify their height from the floor. Locate electrical outlets inside the rooms, away from the walls for computer stations and workstations. Those outlets should be installed flush with the floor.

Eliminate the need for outlet strip cords or extension cords; therefore, provide additional outlets in all workspace areas, circulation counter area, computer clusters and workstation areas, and any section of the facility where equipment will be used. Use installed electrical outlet strips in high use sections such as the circulation desk, computer sections, and work station areas. These should be mounted vertically and avoid need for daily crawling, fumbling for connecting movable equipment. More permanent installations, such as computer areas may incorporate “hidden” under-counter outlets but need supplemental outlets more conveniently placed for occasional equipment needs. Don’t overlook parts of the facility such as storage which might be converted to workspace in the future.

Designate the location of equipment that uses peak current loads, such as the laminator and a laser printer. Consider the need for surge protection and backup power supplies for critical computing areas.

Entrance / Exit. Supervision of entrances/exits is important; therefore, include the minimum number required for safety.

Equipment Closet (150 sq. ft. minimum). This secured space is dedicated to telecommunications and provides space for file server / maintenance. It should be located away form large electrical equipment.

Equipment  Storage / Workroom (400 to 800 sq. ft.). This room provides storage for audiovisual equipment and supplies plus work surfaces for routine maintenance and minor repairs. The room needs direct access to the corridor. It should be adjacent to the media materials storage area.

Ergonomics. Library media staff and students tend to work long periods of time at a computer; therefore careful attention should be given to setting up the computer work stations. Avoiding eye strain includes proper overhead ambient lighting that is low enough to avoid glares and shadows. Window coverings should be used to eliminate reflected sunlight glare, and computer screens should be kept away from uncovered windows. Supplemental adjustable task lighting should be added to work areas.

Position computer monitors directly in front of viewers. Desks and tables should be two inches lower than elbows. Arrange keyboards so that forearms are parallel to the floor. Quality, comfortable, and adjustable seating should be provided for students and staff. The size of student tables and seating should be appropriate for the age group.

For more information:

Expansion / Growth. Does the space allow for expansion and growth. If student population increases, will library media center meet needs that match the building’s

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Floor Coverings. Install aesthetically pleasing, sound absorbent, durable floor materials. High quality, commercial grade carpeting is most often used. Use carpet, cushioning/padding, and adhesives that emit low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC); products carry Carpet and Rug Institute’s “Green Label” rating. Acoustical vinyl or tile flooring is recommended for media production, equipment storage, maintenance rooms, and workroom areas. Where equipment is moved on rolling cars, floor treatment should be continuous, seam-free.

For more information, visit the following online resources:

Reminder that carpet flooring should have added extra padding in the circulation desk area.

Furniture. Quality furniture including tables, chairs, periodical display, circulation counter, computer stations, shelving, seating for classes, seating for areas of quiet study and research, and office furniture should be selected for its quality. Select items based on their durability, flexibility, portability, and functionality.

eye means readRead Sullivan, Margaret (Oct 2010). Working Together: Schools and Universities Should Choose Furniture that Encourages Collaboration. American School & University.

Provide minimum seating in the main area of the library media center for one full class for an elementary school, one and one half full classes for middle schools, and two and one/half classes at a high school. Larger schools with student populations over 500 should increase seating and square footages for anticipated larger numbers of students.

For more information, visit the following online resources (Other resources at bottom of the webpage):

Group Study. This area should be adjacent to the reference and group instruction sections. Provide 30 sq. ft. for each seat.

Individual Reading / Study Areas. These quiet area spaces can be integrated into areas of the library media center; i.e., in main room or spaced throughout. Allow 30 sq. ft. for each individual seating location; 38 to 45 sq. ft. for each computer workstation. Tables should seat no more than four students.

Instruction Room(s) / Group Projects (900 to 1,300 sq. ft.). These rooms should be accessible by groups without disturbing quiet areas. They should be equipped for multimedia / all types of media presentations. More space will be needed if more than one class is to be facilitated.

Intercom Speaker(s). Locate intercom speakers in the main area above the level of shelving or in area without shelving.

Interiors. The goal is to provide functional, durable school library interiors that are aesthetically pleasing to its users.

For more information (More resources at bottom of the webpage):

'My favorite grocery store offers a wonderful space of orientation upon entry. The wide doors open, and to the immediate right is free coffee plus copy and soft drink machines. To the left is check cashing, an ATM machine, and, for better or worse, Florida lottery tickets. Several yards ahead to the right are specialty foods (organic), and to the left, seasonal promotional items. The wide right-hand turn (that favors a world of right-handed people) sweeps you to toiletry and cosmetic items, dairy foods, and aisles of canned and packaged goods. The tour finishes with frozen foods and fresh bakery items, then checkout. The store offers convenience while communicating daily and seasonal products to customer markets. This grocery chain effectively employs the principles of retail interior layout. Why don't libraries?"

Koontz, Christie (Jan / Feb 2005). Customer-Based Marketing: Retail Interior Layout for Libraries. Information Today, Inc.; 19(1).

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Leisure Reading. This space should be adjacent to periodical and new books / materials display. Locate in easily supervised area. Provide 32 to 68 sq. ft. of space for each individual seat. Select soft, comfortable seating.

Lighting. Lighting should be adequate for the spaces (Standards set by Illuminated Engineering Society of North America) and controls should be located in logical, convenient places. Dimming and down light controls should be used in those areas where multimedia presentations and materials will be viewed.

Learn more at:

Lines of Sight. The center should be designed to facilitate the visual supervision of student space(s). Can library media see what is going on? Eliminate blind areas that cannot be controlled.

Location of Center / Spaces. The center should be an integral part of the total building; centrally located and accessible from all instructional areas. The center’s entrance(s) / exit(s) should be strategically placed. If it is a multi-story building, the center should be near an elevator or ramp to facilitate access for both physically handicapped persons (ADA requirement) and the circulation of audiovisual equipment.

Media Materials Storage (200 – 400 sq. ft.). This space is dependent on the size of the audiovisual collection and how / where it is housed: for example, non-print materials are inter-shelved along with books and other print materials in the main collection area. If separate storage area is needed it should be adjacent to or integrated within the equipment storage / workroom.

Media Retrieval System. A media retrieval system enables teachers and other users to use a telephone or computer to remotely access and control infrared switches of media playback devices (VCRs and Videodisc players). The head-end of the system is located in the library media center. A system can be developed for the entire building and should be integrated/incorporated into planning of the television distribution system (See below). Note: Some schools are also opting for subscription digital video services that are delivered on-demand directly through the computer network (United Streaming).

Multimedia Production (300-800 sq. ft.). This area is used for all types of media production and should be accessible by groups without disturbing quiet areas.

Noise Factors (Acoustics). If the library media center is near noisy areas such as the lobby, cafeteria, gym, music rooms, or student meeting areas, acoustical treatments will be necessary for create a quiet environment. Classrooms, meeting rooms, conference rooms; all work and instructional areas should be soundproofed from the main facility.

Office Space (150 to 200 sq. ft. per person). Located adjacent to the circulation counter/desk. Window allows for visual monitoring of the main room.

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Periodical Storage (150-250 sq. ft.). The provision and size of this space is dependent of the collection size. Today’s availability of full-text electronic databases has reduced the need for such storage. It should be located next to a soft seating leisure reading area.

Print Collection Storage. Although electronic resources have prominently taken positions in most school library media centers, it is unlikely that books will become obsolete or quit being used . . . at least in the foreseeable future. The quality of any collection is more important than the quantity; however, maintaining strong print collections (fiction, nonfiction, and reference materials) is still an important function of a center. Before allocating space for housing the print collection, electronic resources must be considered. Also guidelines / standards, especially ones from an accrediting agency, should be considered. Student enrollment is also an important factor; twenty books per student may be fine for an enrollment of nine hundred students, but not at all what is needed for an enrollment of two hundred fifty.

Once the desired collection size is determined, an estimate is needed of the square footage of floor space needed to house that collection. The amount of space needed depends upon the width of aisles between stacks and shelving unit height. The minimum aisle width requirement of ADA is thirty-six inches. A single thirty-six inch shelf that is ten inches deep takes up 8.75 square feet of floor space (This calculated figure includes needed isle space). A twelve-inch deep unit requires 9.40 square feet. Finally increasing the aisle width to forty-two inches, changes the square feet requirement to 10.3 square feet. For double-face shelving units, multiply these figures by two.

Calculate how many books will fit on a thirty-six inch shelf; remember to leave some expansion space – don’t pack them in too tightly.  For high school collections, you will find that it comes out to near thirty books per shelf. In elementary schools, the number of books will be greater. Within a similar school library media center, complete a random sampling of ten or so shelves and average to find a workable figure - the number of books held on a standard shelf length.

The only other decision to be made is how high of shelving units are to be used. Some teacher librarians recommend not having shelves anywhere that you cannot see over; others have aligned taller five-shelf units so that the aisles can be seen easily from the circulation area.

Expanding these basic calculations, one can calculate the total amount of shelf space needed to house the optimum print collection size.

Professional Resources (Minimum of 600 sq. ft.). Sometimes called the teacher library section, this area provides storage for professional books and periodicals. It should also have access to the library catalog and other electronic resources. Additional space is needed if a teacher production area is included.

Restrooms. Rest room facilities should be located nearby and be accessible within any after-hours security section.

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Safety & Security. The main areas of the library media center, those areas accessible by student patrons, should be visually open to the library staff. The number of entrances and exits should be limited. Locks should be placed on all entry/exit and interior doorways and windows.

Do not use throw rugs, nor waxed, slippery floor surfaces. Avoid unnecessary steps or changes in floor levels. Make sure floors a smooth at doorway and other transitions.

Security System. A security or theft-prevention system is required in most high school and middle school library media centers. Two basic types of systems are available: magnetic and electronic. Magnetic systems may adversely affect media materials such a computer drives, audiotapes, videotapes, and other magnetic recording media. Also metal wall studs may interfere with the system’s operation.

It is important to select a system early. The architect will need to know specific placement and installation requirements to allow for successful installation of the system.

Shelving. Select age appropriate shelving that is strong, durable and fits with other furniture selections. All shelving should be adjustable.

Soundproofing. Television studio/production studio and recording studio should be soundproofed and lined with acoustic, sound absorbing materials. Bells and intercoms system should not be placed in those areas.

Storage (400 sq. ft.). This space should be adjacent to or incorporated within the workroom.

Storytelling. Locate space in close proximity to the picture book collection. Place where it is relatively quiet, but activities will not disturb other areas. Allow 15 sq. ft. per child.

Supervision. Single floor facilities are more easily supervised/monitored.  There should not be areas within the center that cannot be seen from a single location. Walls between rooms should include strategically place windows or window walls.

Telephone. At least one and preferably two telephone lines are essential in the operation of a school library media center. They should be outside lines with long-distance capabilities. One should be connected to a FAX machine. Phones should be placed in the offices of all teacher librarians and/or library media professionals. The second phone line will support library staff offices, workroom, circulation desk, etc. A portable phone can speed communications with technical support staff.

Television Distribution. A television distribution system capable of carrying multiple channels to distribute cable and/or satellite television programs, play video programs, and provide for the local origination of programming through the building should be incorporated into planning. This system should originate (“head end” of system) in the library media center. Cabling should connect to all areas of the center and extend to all classrooms and other instructional areas, administrative areas, the auditorium, gymnasium, and cafeteria.

Cable jack(s) should be located in each area based on the location of the television monitor/receiver. If the monitor is attached to the wall, the cable jack and electrical outlet should be located out-of-sight on the wall behind it. If movable carts are to be used, the outlets must also be carefully located to minimize cords.

Television Studio (1,600 sq. ft.). This area is designed to support viewing as well as production of television programming. It should be next to the multimedia production room, the audiovisual equipment storage area, and distance learning classroom. Ceiling height should be 14 ft. and the area must be free of all ambient sound.

Traffic Flow. Analyze plans to identify the traffic patterns that are created. Minimize the constrictions / blocks to smooth traffic flow. Place furniture and shelving to allow free, easy access.

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Windows. Interior and exterior windows should begin at least 45” above the floor (allowing shelving). Operational windows can ensure an exchange of fresh air and provide cross ventilation. Windows should not hinder space utilization within the library media center. Windows should not admit glaring, distracting light. Windows should be able to be opened without step stools, ladders, or gadgets.

Walls. Walls need to be built of sound-absorbing materials. Perimeter walls of the center should extend above the drop ceiling to the roof of the building to prevent entry through the ceiling craw space. Is there an exterior wall leading to “future” expansion area if additional space is someday needed? Colors and textures should be subtle and pleasing.

Workroom (300-400 sq. ft). This space is for collection processing, maintenance and repair, and temporary storage. It should be located adjacent to the center’s offices. Design so that it provides physical and visual access to other support and production areas. A direct access to corridor / hallway is desirable. Consider providing a restroom for staff (not included in floor space).

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Check Your Understanding

You have the chance to design and build a new school library. Cool!

Review this Elements of Facilities page. It contains a long list of topics, however it's doesn't include everything.

Option 1 - Using this list as a starting point, identify at least components that you think are missing from your new library. Also, identify at least two things elements that you don't think are necessary for your center. In both cases, explain your reasoning.

Option 2 - Explore one area of facilities design in-depth. Using the elements page as a starting point, draw in additional resources and references that would be necessary to make educated decisions about this topic. Topic Ideas: carpeting and health concerns, shelving height vs visual monitoring, security systems.

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Read More About It

American School & University
Online magazine aimed at shaping facilities.

Assistive Technology from the National Center for Learning Disabilities
Assistive technology can help children with learning disabilities leverage their strengths and work around or compensate for specific learning problems.

Enable Mart: Assistive Technology
Company that markets, promotes, and distributes innovative technology-based products (Assistive technology) and services that encourage independence, enhance productivity, and enhance the lives of individuals with disabilities.

ConnSENSE Bulletin from Connecticut Special Education Network for Software Evaluation
Assistive technology news and information.

Hearing Assistive Technology at American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
An assistive listening device (ALD) is any type of device that can help you function better in your day-to-day communication situations.

South Carolina Assistive Technology Program
Selected SCATP Resource:
Jendron, Janet. Cool Tools for AT in Education. South Carolina Assistive Technology Program

National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP) - Promote the effective use of technology to enhance educational outcomes for students with sensory, cognitive, physical and social/emotional disabilities.

Assistive technology tools and resources for learning.

Furniture Vendors at School Media at eduScapes (Previously assigned reading in the course)
Indexed list and links to a variety of vendors of school library furnishings.

Green Library, The (Blogsite)
Devoted to documenting significant activities, events, literature, and products building green.

Loder, Michael W. (Jul 2010). Libraries with a Future: How Are Academic Library Usage and Green Demands Changing Building Designs? (Access requires login). College & Research Libraries; 71(4), 348-60.
Study of "green" libraries in 2008 revealed that not only has energy conservation become important, but that spaces designed for users rather than books have become paramount.

Green Squad, The from The Natural Resources Defense Council.
Information specifically for schools from The Green Squad:
Fact Sheet: Renovating Schools

Demco Interiors
Vendor that designs and provides library interiors.

Portal to the architecture and interiors industries.

Target Commercial Interiors - Education
Related Target Story:
"Gotta Keep Reading" Music Video Gets Ocoee Middle School Students on Oprah Show (Mar 2010) in the Orlando Sentinel

Yamada Enterprises
Example of regional vendor that provides library interiors in California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii. Look for others in your area.

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