Space Planning, Design 101: Getting Started

Beginning an interior renovation project can be an overwhelming endeavor that might seem impossible to complete as a DIY project. However, by following a series of simple steps, libraries can feel confident in making interior space changes that will propel their library spaces into the 21st Century, and more importantly meet the evolving needs of their customers.

This article focuses on six steps to help your library:

  1. Analyzing your collection
  2. Taking inventory of your assets
  3. Classifying public spaces
  4. Understanding your demographics
  5. Showing patrons, and potential patrons the possibilities
  6. Setting your priorities

Take Time to Plan First

Successful projects often use a series of principles to guide them and ensure success. By taking time to plan first, understand your community, and then devise your next steps, you will be well on your way to your desired outcome.

The detailed planning at the onset of the project is probably one of the most important processes that you will undertake. You will find that spaces are a key component of today’s libraries, and while some libraries may not have the appropriate square footage to meet the needs of their communities, many libraries are just not utilizing the space they have to the fullest.

Step One: Analyze Your Collection

One of the simplest ways to find underutilized space is to complete a turnover analysis. Turnover relates the number of materials checked out to the size of the collection. It indicates how often each item in the collection was lent and therefore is relevant to see use of the collection. Even though the ideal turnover rate varies from collection to collection, Library Consultant Kimberly Bolan Cullin advises her clients to concentrate on weeding any collection with a turnover rate below 2.0 and then further analyzing collections circulating below 4.0.

Cullin offers a Collection Turnover Spreadsheet that can help.

Eliminating materials from your collection that aren’t circulating can provide many opportunities to improve the physical space; opening up floor space to provide more desired functions, lowering stack height to improve sight lines or making room to better merchandise materials.

Step Two: Inventory Your Assets

Take an inventory of the furniture and shelving that you have. You may wish to use this Furniture Inventory Spreadsheet. This list should include as many details as you can provide, such as dimensions, manufacturer and colors/finishes. This will make the space planning process much easier. Successful and cost-effective redesigns involve reusing and rethinking what you have, and adding new fresh pieces that can enhance the users’ experience.

Include only the items you want to keep and eliminate any item in poor condition that you plan to discard. Any items you are not sure about should be listed. In a budget crunch, you may need to plan these items into the redesign. Shelving is typically a great item to reuse, unless your shelving inventory is all 90″H or above. While reupholstering existing soft seating may seem like a good cost savings measure, investing in new comfortable seating with a more updated look will have a higher impact.

Additional items to consider replacing are tables and seating. Looking for smaller tables that can be grouped together for large groups or separated for individual use adds tremendous flexibility. Also, making sure that these pieces are sized appropriately for various age groups will ensure comfort for everyone.

Step Three: Classify Public Spaces & Consider Adjacencies

Think about the programs and services you currently provide and what new programs and services you hope your redesign will facilitate in the future. Through this exercise you should be able to generate a master list of the “zones” you would like to create within your library. Next, consider adjacencies and create a simple bubble diagram over your building plan to illustrate how these spaces relate to one another, and generate a wish list of furniture and equipment that is important to the function of each space. Some areas to consider when generating your list may include, but are not limited to:

  • Popular Library
  • Café
  • Meeting Spaces
  • Technology
  • Social Area
  • Learning Commons
  • Quiet Area
  • Early Literacy
  • Parent & Caregiver
  • School Age
  • Pre-Teen
  • Teens
  • Makerspace
  • Staff Spaces

Understand your Community

Once you have compiled your expectations for the library, it is time to engage with the community to better understand their expectations. Steve Matthews states in his 1/26/11 post, Customer is the Purpose, from his 21st Century Library blog, “the absolute total purpose and focus of the 21st Century Library Model is the customer. Customer-centered library services that meet the information needs of the 21st Century customer will result in any library remaining relevant to its community.”

With that said, it would not be prudent to begin an interior redesign or renovation without taking the time to properly seek the thoughts and ideas of those whom you expect to benefit most from the changes to your library.

Step Four: Understand your Demographics

A demographic study of current population and expected growth conducted can provide valuable decision-making data as part of the space planning process. Understanding the size of the various age groups your library can potentially serve, will help to determine how much space needs to be allocated to each group. Often this type of information is available through you local Chamber of Commerce. In addition, helpful resources for gathering this info are included at the end of this article.

Step Five: Show the Possibilities

It isn’t simply enough to ask library users and non-users what they like and don’t like about their library. Librarians need to show them the possibilities of what a 21st Century Library can be so they can react, provide feedback and help create the vision for their library.

The best way to show customers the possibilities is through photographs of what other libraries have done with their spaces. During the planning phase, maintaining an image library for the potential spaces will be helpful in showing the potential for your redesign. Images can be obtained through site visits and Internet searches. Make sure you are collecting images in a variety of styles … you do not have to like everything personally.

DEMCO Interiors Projects

Let’s take a field trip! Click on the photos below for details on choice projects from DEMCO Interiors’ portfolio.
You’ll be leaving the Ideas + Inspiration site, but you know your way back.

View DEMCO Interiors’ Case Study
— Washington Elementary School

View DEMCO Interiors’ Case Study
— Seattle Public Library

View DEMCO Interiors’ Case Study
— San Diego County Library, Ramona Branch

There are several ways you can share this information with the community. A simple way is to create boards for the various zones that include a variety of numbered images. Leave the boards on display in the lobby of your library and collect feedback on simple forms that allow customers to rate the images for design and function.

Conducting focus groups should also be part of this step. Set a series of focus groups inviting members of different groups such as adults, teens, parents, caregivers and non-users. Advertise the groups and have participants sign up in advance to ensure groups of seven or more. Present a slideshow of library possibilities and take notes on the feedback you receive regarding the various concepts. Also, pose some questions to the group about what they like and don’t like about your current library, and what expectations they have for the future. For non-users, discover where people like to hang out in your community and why. You may need to meet them where they are in your community in locations such as the local coffee shop.

Finally, use a service like Survey Monkey and/or enlist library staff and users to distribute paper surveys to the broader community. It is important to reach as many people as possible.

Plan your Next Steps

Once you have gathered all of your data you are well on your way to determining what is needed in your future library space. Spending some time on analyzing your findings will help to determine your next steps.

Step Six: Set Your Priorities

One of the first things you will want to do is cross-reference your expectations to those of your community. Most likely this exercise will re-enforce what you already identified, but there may be a few surprises that open your eyes to innovative opportunities. Create a master list of priorities that are feasible to accomplish with your physical and financial resources.

After you have successfully completed steps one through six, you will be ready for Space Planning, Design 102: Implementing Your Plan … coming to your inbox October 2013!


Marisa Amara

Marisa Amara

Marisa currently works as a consultant on dozens of library space planning and furniture design projects as an associate of Kimberly Bolan and Associates. Previously, she was the Marketing Manager for DEMCO Interiors and continues to consult with the DEMCO Interiors project team through design and furniture specification stages of their large projects. Additionally, she manages DEMCO Interiors' contact programs for architects, designers and consultants and has written several articles on current library trends, space planning and design for libraries. Her experience includes extensive background in product development, furniture project sales and architect and design market relationship development. This has given Marisa in-depth understanding of libraries, their spaces and the furniture needs.