Practical Tips for Library Building Design
A long time ago I consigned library architects to the Eighth Circle of Dante's Inferno (reserved for those
Enjoy and (I hope) use!
TIPS FOR DESIGNING LIBRARY BUILDINGS . . . FROM LIBRARIANS
In the Beginning
Don't use an architect who has never designed a library. When you find an architect with experience, go look at the libraries he or she has designed. Talk to librarians who have worked with the architect. Did he or she listen?
Be willing to tell architects what you want. You must tell them exactly what you need and what is non-negotiable. You can't blame an architect when he or she acts in the absence of advice.
Talk to all staff members, not just managers, about how they use their work spaces. Ask frontline staff about patron behavior.
In a growing community, design with expansion of the building in mind.
Revisit and adjust plans.
Among the "non-negotiables"
The library's roof and windows should not leak. (Designers of flat roofs take note.)
The library's layout should not confuse its patrons. (Hold out for ease of navigation when the
Interior elements (walls, wiring, flooring, service points, stacks) should be easily reconfigurable, so that librarians can change them as uses and purposes change over the lifespan of the building.
Spaces and surfaces should not amplify noise. (Designers of atriums and lovers of ceramic tile take note.)
Flooring, wall treatments, and furnishings should be durable, easy to clean, and easy and inexpensive to repair and replace. Ask who will clean special fixtures and features and how easily they will be able to do so.
Generally, remember D.R.E.M. -- durability, reconfigurability, expandability, maintainability.
Things you think architects and librarians would know
Don't build an immovable fortress for a service desk. You will eventually change your mind about where and how you want it.
When planning the structure of library floors, be sure to take into account the weight of the materials that will be on them.
If the parking lot is in the rear of the building, don't make the only public entrance in the front of the building.
If you are designing a library with more than one floor, you should include an elevator. (Apparently, this got completely overlooked at one place!)
Are there enough restrooms and can they be easily found? Will the hacking and flushing coming from them be audible throughout the building? Is there a set of restrooms CLOSE to the children's area? Do both the men's and women's restrooms have diaper-changing stations?
Atriums and light wells with surrounding balconies will be used by boys for gravity and sound experiments, and others will use the balconies to holler at friends or family on other levels.
Patrons will fall into an indoor water feature, and will deposit items -- both innocuous and unsavory -- into it.
Any indoor planter, or artwork with a void in it, will be treated as a trash receptacle.
Children's librarians come with, and generate, a lot of stuff. Plan storage in staff areas accordingly.
Have a double set of doors for the main entry, preferably with one set at an angle to the other so as to not create a wind tunnel. The double doors will lower heating bills in cold climates and cooling bills in hot climates, and help keep dust and grime from the street out of the library.
You cannot ever have too many electrical outlets, too many network jacks, too many phone jacks, or too much wireless coverage. Take the number of receptacles you think you will need and triple it. Ditto this advice in staff areas. (ESPECIALLY in staff areas!)
HVAC, unsexy but essential
Architects see grand spaces with high ceilings. Ask about heating and cooling the grand spaces (and about noise amplification, and about how much it will cost to hire someone to replace the bulbs in the lighting fixtures up there).
Avoid large, west-facing windows, because sun will pour through them on summer afternoons and heat up the building. (If unavoidable, consider shades or screens.)
Ensure that the building is well insulated and uses energy efficient windows throughout.
Make sure separate rooms on the periphery of the building are reached by heating and cooling ducts. Otherwise the rooms will be cold in winter and hot in summer.
More on those ever-problematical restrooms
The toilet paper roll shouldn't hit you on the hip.
Have separate children's and adult restrooms.
If the space is large enough, design the restrooms without doors, like those in air terminal buildings. This will make restrooms less inviting for undesirable behavior. (Note conflict with advice elsewhere: Lack of doors may allow bathroom noises to be audible in the rest of the building.)
Use heavy-duty fixtures for everything. Avoid complicated, high-tech fixtures that will break and be difficult and costly to repair.
Assume that the restroom will be flooded. (This is a "when" not an "if.") Choose flooring and wall treatments accordingly. Put a drain in the middle of the restroom.
Someone needs to solve the faucet problem. Traditional faucets can give the patron as much water as he or she requires, but can be left running. Push-down, timed-release faucets won't give everyone water long enough, so they will use one wet hand to keep the faucet pushed down to wash the other, and repeat the process from hand to hand, dripping water on the counter around the sink. Motion-activated faucets? (See admonition about complicated fixtures, above, though a lot of airports seem to have adopted the motion-detecting faucets.)
About study rooms
Soundproof them. REALLY soundproof them!
Make sure they are adequately ventilated.
Make sure your wireless coverage reaches them.
Make sure there are electrical outlets for power for laptops and other personal electronic devices.
Make sure your can see into the rooms from one of your service points.
Book drops are trickier than you think
Include a drive-up book drop. Your patrons will be immensely grateful. Keep the drop open 24/7/365.
Though 4'6" is the standard distance from the road surface for locating a drive-up book drop, consider having a second higher or lower one. A "standard" slot will still be too low or too high for some vehicles.
The drive-up drop opening should be accessible from the driver's side. Passenger-side accessibility won't
If a book drop leads directly into a receptacle inside your building, the receptacle should be in an enclosed room with smoke detectors and sprinklers.
A book drop's slot and chute should be large enough that neither will easily become blocked.
The receptacle or bin should be large enough to handle material returned when the library is closed. Take into account longer-than-usual holiday closures.
More on wall treatments, flooring, and light fixtures
Make sure wall surfaces are washable.
When the architects show you those artistic light fixtures ask a couple of questions: How much do replacement bulbs cost and can we get them locally or are they a special order from Sweden? Do we really need 10 different types of light fixtures that require 10 different kinds of bulbs?
Skylights and computer commons don't mix.
Inquire about maintenance of proposed floor coverings. Carpet you pretty much know, but other floor coverings may require special maintenance procedures and coating/cleaning agents.
Consider hard, durable, easy-to-clean flooring in high-traffic areas. An examination of your old carpeting will show you where these are. (Note conflict with advice elsewhere: Hard flooring may amplify noise. Replaceable carpet tiles an option?)
If you use two types of flooring, pay close attention to how the transition between the two types will be handled. T-moldings can create a tripping hazard and can come loose.
Using taller baseboards, and bumpers on corners, will keep your walls looking nicer, longer. Examination of your existing walls will show the areas that need to be protected.
Parking, or, the thing that patrons most complain about
Make sure patron parking is close to the front entrance, and that the front entrance can be easily seen from the parking lot.
Avoid making patrons climb stairs to get from the lot into the building.
Do not build parking lots or garages that have areas hidden away from the general flow of traffic and people. Such areas invite vandalism to cars and other illegal activity.
An interesting general rule
Design buildings according to how people actually behave, not according to how you think they should behave. (Same thing stated another way: If you demand that people adapt to your building instead of adapting
In the end
Even if the architect never returns to see how his or her building worked out, management should meet with staff six months after construction or renovation to discuss the building and what changes or modifications need to be made. A budget for adjustments should be set aside.
Carol Ann Robb
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