Musings on School Library Design


I am currently working as a librarian assistant at Houston Elementary in Denton, TX.  The school was built in 1982 and was renovated in 2002. The library saw the addition of an “everybody” room, and a wall was removed to open up the space.
In reading through some articles this past week, I identified five factors that would be important to consider in the event that the library space could be redesigned.

  1. In the article How to Transform Your Library on a Budget, Diana Rendina talks about some of the low-cost, gradual changes that make a huge impact on her library. First and foremost, she weeded aggressively and removed large unnecessary furniture, freeing up lots of floor space for comfortable seating and wall space for a whiteboard and a LEGO wall. In my library, there are several large shelves that could be removed after some weeding, and there are a few desktop computers that are not used and could be removed (along with the huge desks they sit on). This would open up the space and create a lot more options for creating a learning commons.
  2. Margaret Sullivan is a long-time school library designer. In her article, Divine Design, she stresses the need to keep the library flexible with modular, easily movable furniture. Some small steps toward this have been made in my library. For example, wheels were added to the tables to make them easier to move. Of course, tables on wheels can create problems as well; kids like to lean on and across tables while working, creating more movement than is desirable, especially while groups are working on makerspace projects. Ideally, it would be nice to have light tables without wheels that are easy to move.
  3. Lorraine Maxwell and Raechel French, in their article Elementary School Library Design: Student Perceptions of a Learning Commons, explored the effects of changing a traditional library into a learning commons, open for collaboration. One of the positive outcomes was that there was more space to display students’ work, an important factor in increasing students’ identification with their school.
  4. Although there are many benefits to a learning commons, it is important to create a balance between collaborative, open space, and quiet, solitary spaces. I especially love one of the ideas of Ray Palin, mentioned in his article, Looking for Peace and Quiet. He created what he calls a “Walden Zone”, opening up his library to the outdoors. Students can read outside in lawn chairs, away from the hustle and bustle of the noisy library. Although I think this is a great idea, it would be hard to incorporate in my library, which does not have direct access to the outdoors. However, there is simply a hall between the library and the outdoors, and the hall contains a full wall of windows (and a glass door). It is feasible that the library could be opened up into the hall, which could then provide direct access to the outdoors from the library.
  5. As Meghan Harper and Liz Deskins point out in their article, Using Action Research to Assess and Advocate for Innovative School Library Design, it is important to “measure twice, cut once”. In other words, before making sweeping changes to a library space, it is necessary to research, question, collaborate, and discuss before coming up with a plan for change. It’s not enough to just create your ideal space; it must reflect the needs of the students, teachers, and community.

If I were able to redesign my library, I would weed out many of the old books, eliminating the need for several of the large bookshelves. Those would go to storage, opening up a lot of space in the library. The heavy wooden tables would be replaced with lighter, modular tables, and the chairs would be replaced with lighter, stackable ones. I would also have most of the desktop computers removed, leaving only one or two for circulation. This would enable the addition of a few comfortable reading areas and nooks. I would change the “everybody room” into a makerspace area, and I would create an open-flow plan that would enable the library’s use of the outside area.

Here is what the library looks like currently:

20190128_082351 (1)

Here is something like what I envision:

2019-03-24 (2)



Harper, Meghan, & Deskins, Liz. (2015). Using action research to assess and advocate for innovative school library design. Knowledge Quest, 44(2), 25-32.

Maxwell, L. and French, R. (2016). Elementary school library design: Student perceptions of a learning commons. Children, Youth and Environments, 26(2), 61-82.

Palin, Ray. (2014). Looking for peace and quiet. Knowledge Quest, 42(4), 16-21.

Paragon Furniture. (2017). Redesigning school libraries for the 21st century [Brochure]. Retrieved from

Rendina, Diana. (2015, October 27). How to Transform Your Library Space on a Budget [blog post]. Knowledge Quest. Retrieved from

Sullivan, Margaret. (2011). Divine Design: How to Create the 21st-Century School Library of Your Dreams. School Library Journal, 57(4), 26-32.

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