Public Library Interior Design

Public Libraries are more relevant today and used more now than ever before. They are exciting places to be in and explore. Libraries are some of the most utilized spaces in cities and in fact, our Millennium Library has more visitors than neighbouring Bell MTS Center in downtown Winnipeg that hosts the Jets games. At the opening time of 10:00 A.M., the Millennium Library is flooded with people waiting to use the facility. People who are researching, educating themselves, coming to events, learning another language, taking out material for the visually impaired, wanting to rent movies, use the maker's room, scheduled group activities, play board games, using technology, talking to staff about personal problems, socializing, staying warm, reading and more.

Libraries today are social hubs, technology centers, learning environments, and places to read and relax for people of all ages. Oh, and also drinking coffee and gabbing! Yes, you can now talk in libraries, unlike Yoga classes!

Public Libraries have expanded to include spaces for social gatherings such as program rooms, lounge areas, computer counters, educational centers, small meeting rooms and more. Programs for daycare, kids learning, young adults and adults all have space in libraries.

Synergy Interior Design Inc. is a specialist in library design having completed over 13 library projects.

Librarians are excellent planners and well organized, and we love working with them. Libraries need to be well planned to function properly. The organization of the stacks and the size of the collection is critical and the first item that needs to be addressed within any library. How large of a collection will be housed in the library and then detailed into sections for users reference. This would include hard copy and soft books, DVD’s, digital copies online, and special materials.

As one enters a library, the entry needs to be hands-free for people with accessibility issues, strollers and users with their hands full of library books. The concept of accessibility continues throughout the library to include movement around the stacks, bathroom facilities, the circulation counter and other service desks and adjustable height computer tables. Visual clues also need to be a part of the accessibility plan including floor changes to help those with vision issues know that a function is about to change.

The spacing between library stacks is also critical for the circulation of wheelchairs and other mobility devices. The end of the stack area needs to be large enough for wheelchair users to maneuver around.

With today's emphasis on efficiency, libraries need to be planned with the least number of staff possible. The users of libraries now deliver their return books to indoor or exterior book chutes or after-hour exterior door returns. Then, they are sorted by staff onto carts for a return to the stacks or to center distribution. When users are taking books out of the library they will find the “on hold” books on a shelf adjacent to the circulation desk, where they may use the self-check tables or have a librarian process the books for them which prevents users from having to queue in line for service. Staff are now accessible by walking around the library helping the user with handheld devices to assess the users with the library collection and answer questions.

Furniture for libraries needs to be useable for people of all ages. The arms on all seating need to be strong and stable for people with mobility issues. Seating also needs to have little or no place for bedbugs and garbage to be stored and upholstered with vinyl or polypropylene fabric for cleanability. Desks and tables need to be easily cleaned and height-adjustable for those in wheelchairs.

Every Library we work on becomes unique to the city and reflects the community it serves. We work with the branch librarian and head office librarians and staff to create a space full of energy and life, welcoming the community that supports the library. Often the budget requires us to reuse something from the original space, resulting in an item becoming an important design element that we workaround, and incorporate, like the existing stacks and end panels. We then make it seem that an item was always perfect for the new design. This is the way we integrate new and old.

Depending on the size of the collection within the library, we will use accent carpet tiles to help users navigate the stacks. Or we may provide more interest in the space by having sections of carpet that are different for different functions. This is more important when the original space is a strip mall box with no architectural detailing. The space needs to come alive with the use of materials and colour.

Custom millwork for items like the circulation desk, on-line public access catalogue or OPAC units at the end of a row of stacks, service desks, information display units, bathroom counters and more are designed first by determining the requirements for each unit including electrical/data and plumping for the bathrooms. The location of computers, cash drawers, storage and worksurfaces are decided on for the development of the plans and elevations. Then the millwork sections and details are designed including any interior channels for electrical and lighting if necessary. All the material and hardware is specified along with the quality standard expected for the project. This is then tendered along with all the working drawings for the project. The millworker will provide us with shop drawings which we check to ensure it is correct and then approve for construction.

The reflected ceiling plan, including the lighting of a library, needs to be designed so the right lighting is in the right space. By this, I mean the stacks have no shadows and are lit with the right level of light so everyone can see the books on the shelves. The same principle applies to the seating areas and study tables. For offices and for the circulation desk area staff need to have good quality lighting which is not over lit or under lit. With today’s LED lights which can offer a great deal more light than fluorescent lights, one can not simply replace the existing fluorescent lights with LED. The photometric and spacing of the light fixtures need to be studied and planned to provide the right levels of light and provide the best life cost saving for the client.

If all the layers of design are taken into consideration, a renovated library will be an exciting, interesting, accessible learning environment for the community it serves.