Library Design Guide

There are a number of different types of libraries all serving different people, groups, users and communities. Types of library can include:

  • Public library

  • National library

  • Academic library

  • Specialist library

  • Museum/Collection library


The design of many libraries has increased in complexity over recent decades and they become more than a book repository, and include many other services, whether that be digital, multi-media or indeed inclusion of other council and community services too.


A library is often used as a meeting place, a place of study, a source of information, access to IT services, community focused. The type of library will determine the design brief and specific requirements of the design.


In this library design guide, we will look at some of the things to consider when designing a library.

Library Design Guide3

First we will look at the types of library, and the services that are often associated with them.


Public Library

The public library tends to house collections of books for loan. It also provides IT services such as access to the internet. A public library is serving the community and often offers places to meet, perhaps a cafe, and spaces for group activities. Some public libraries form part of another civic building, such as council offices.


National Library

A national library will house the national collection of books, journals, maps and so on. A national library tends to be research focused, and rarely allow citizens to borrow books. They can include rare, or significant works. These libraries tend to be large, and have a duty to collect and preserve the literature of a nation.


Academic Library

The academic library provides study support for teaching and learning. They tend to contain large collections of specialist books and information relating to the subjects taught. The academic library is attached to a higher education institution and supports the curriculum and the research of the university faculty and its students.


They also provide large spaces for study and research along with IT services, and tend to allow 24 hour access.


Specialist Library

A specialist library contains specific books relating to a specialism, along with journals and other materials. They can contain rare or fragile materials usually with a strong conservation focus. These types of libraries usually have limited public access.

Library Design Guide

Library Design Requirements


For the following sections, we will focus on the public library.


We have touched on the fact that the role of public libraries has changed over recent decades now consisting of more IT related resources. The requirements of the library have shifted, due to new technologies, and as a result, the library has taken a more social, community and educational role.


A public library must now provide a building which can help bring a community together. It must serve as a meeting place, providing life long learning resources. The library also provides IT learning access and support centres. Often, the library will also include other council services.


Each public library is different and will need to respond to the needs of the local community and council.

Key Library Design Considerations




The public library must be centrally located and well connected to civic life. It must be accessible to pedestrians and public transport. Most libraries provide a gathering space at the entrance area, where visitors will often congregate, and use the space as a break area.


If possible, the urban design surrounding the library and its entrance should be designing in harmony, creating a public space alongside the library that creates a statement and indicates the significance of the library building.


Space and zoning


The library space can be broken down into areas that need to be accounted for. The main areas include:

  • Collection space
  • IT space – public use
  • Seating space/work spaces – public use
  • Staff work space
  • Meeting spaces – public use
  • Sanitary facilities
  • Other – mechanical, plant, etc


Understanding exactly how the library will be used will help to establish these different spaces and zone requirements.



The library should be fully accessible to all, which includes many types of abilities and disabilities. Not only should the library be wheelchair accessible, it should also consider visitors that may have visual, learning, mobility, speech and hearing impairments.

Beyond the building regulations requirements, some other suggestions specific to libraries include:


  • Aisles should be wide and clear for both wheelchair users and those with visual impairments
  • Make sure ramps and lifts are provided as alternatives to stairs, with any lift controls easily in reach for anyone in a wheelchair
  • Service desks and book return facilities should be wheelchair accessible
  • Way finding and signage to be high contrast and easily readable so users can navigate the library with ease
  • Shelves and aisles should be clearly identified in both large print and braille.
  • Private study rooms to be provided for users who can be distracted by noise or movement or who need special equipment or support.
  • Adaptive technology for computers.



How will users move through the library spaces? The journey into and through the library is an important part of the design. Considerations need to be made for visitor experience, people flow, avoiding bottlenecks, along with ease of evacuation in case of fire and much more.


How will visitors find their way around the library? What sort of way finding and signage will be used? We have a Pinterest board dedicated to wayfinding and signage giving innovative ideas! Check it out!



Aesthetic choices for the library will play an important part of the visitor experience. What type of library is being designed? It is formal, modern, traditional? Is it open and welcoming to the community?


Good lighting levels are extremely important in libraries to provide users with sufficient light to write, read and explore the bookshelves with ease. It is important to avoid glare, and high gloss surfaces or indeed excessive sunlight. Natural daylight however is welcome, and can be provided by side windows and clerestories which can provide a more balanced daylight distribution.



A constructive plan for fire protection and occupant safety must be considered at early stages of design.

It is also important to consider security in terms of general access, and staff access. Which parts of the building are completely open to the public? Which parts of the building need to be secure access? How will these areas be segregated easily?




Library design is a large topic and we’ve only scratched the surface here.


The library has been changing over time and the spaces need to be flexible, considering how they will be used in the future with ever changing technologies. We hope this blog post has provided you with some insight into getting started on your own journey towards designing an ideal library!

Library Design Guide 2

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1 Comment

  1. good idea


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