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Check out how schools are refurbishing their school libraries this year

Have you booked in your library for a makeover? Thinking about it? There are a few things you might want to consider…

Image courtesy of Office Interiors

A new school library can lead to an upswing in book borrowing, innovate teaching, and even become a social hub.

In fact, schools that have researched and invested in redesigning and refurnishing their library spaces talk about seeing a growth in reading and library space popularity.

Image courtesy of Distinction

Take yourself back to your uni-days for a second… wasn’t it nice to find a quiet, comfy corner of your campus library so sit and focus in? Didn’t it help you get through those tough assessment times? Sure, the needs of a school differ from those of a university but the core human-library experience is universal. Libraries offer safe harbour in a sea of academic challenge.

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For younger users, libraries can be a place for imagination and thought to run wild. Whether that’s through discovering a new book, listening to a story or joining in a lunchtime club. Dependant on how your library has been designed, the aim is to make it a place that inspires critical thinking, creativity and innovation.

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This is the first thing schools should consider: who’s your library for? Teenagers and seven-year-olds have very different requirements. Senior school students will need more desk-space while infant school students will need more reading nooks.

Image courtesy of Scholar Furniture


From available library space to the furniture inside, size is critical.  How many student groups do you need to be able to use the library at one time? Do you need to be able to modulate the space so it can flexibly resize to fit demand? If you have different age-groups using the same space, you’ll need to plan accordingly to avoid noise and disruption.

Image courtesy of Office Interiors


What are people going to be using the library for? The best way to find this out is to ask teachers, who in turn can ask their students. A library catering predominantly to computer research needs to have a different design to a library focussed on books, reading groups or more social activities. Furniture can range from charging stations and desks, to plush seating, lighting, and more; whether stationary or moveable, modular or in-built, you need to have an idea of how furniture in your dream library can best meet your school’s needs. If you’re going to have lots of technology installed, make sure that wires and leads are accounted for and hidden to avoid safety risks.

Image courtesy of Scholar Furniture

To gather advice for schools looking to reinvent their libraries, School News spoke to some companies that frequently refurbish school libraries.  

 Sector know-how…

David Stevens is the export and North Island sales manager at Hydestor Shelving. He described what he believes are critical elements of a library refurbishment…

In my view, the exciting part is the concept that you are looking to create to entice the students to pick up a book and open/read it.

The pedestrian traffic-flow and placement of collections to allow for the balance of people versus areas/spaces that allows the collection to breathe and be easily accessed has a huge impact on students.Previously, school collections were dominated by the size of the non-fiction collection, stored spine-out in dewy sequence for reference.

One recent trend has seen progressive schools enhance the presentation of their previously stored spine-out collection of non-fiction books into specific genre topics.

A move to a ‘face-out’ display of non-fiction books and one that showcases covers will attract young readers.

In recent years, we have seen the opening up of spaces to allow for greater ILE environments and we’ve initially seen the pendulum swing wildly, as some schools have interpreted that as ‘let’s create a playground within a library space’ to the detriment of the nature of reading/resourcing material. Fortunately, the pendulum has now swung back to a more balanced equilibrium.

The introduction of more flexible, easily moved library ‘rollaway shelving’ has allowed for the creation of teaching nooks and the ability to relocate topics for certain genre displays.
Another trend has 

been the push into e-books and, again, it’s all about balance. As we all know, our lives are heavily tasked with immediate information being available online.

I’m now seeing a quiet revolt from students who actually welcome a break away from viewing a screen and the tactile joy of page-turning. It’s refreshing to return to a non-digital pastime that allows our eyes and mind to relax.

What’s important to think about when planning a library refurbishment?

Consultation and vision. It’s about the concept that you want to achieve in producing the library environment that will inspire your pupils. Traffic-flow, natural light, collection size, flexibility, colour and texture: these should all be key considerations.

Beckett Neshat is the business development manager for Scholar Furniture and told us how schools can avoid creating a dull library environment…

A library should encourage creativity and imagination. There are many factors to consider in achieving this such as colour, acoustics, furnishings and placement; all of which have a big impact on students and can make the library a happier place for them to spend their time.

School libraries have typically been dull areas in the past. However, with the introduction of soft seating, schools are using this as a way to bring colour into the libraries, brightening up spaces. In terms of sound, panels around walls in libraries can provide better acoustics.

Libraries are now being used as student centres too. In the past, there may have been groups of tables and classroom chairs to accommodate 20 to 30 students but now the requirement is more for collaborative, interactive furniture that creates quiet areas for reading and studying, small group areas, along with soft furniture spaces for large groups.

You will find more ottomans and sofas in libraries now than in previous years. These items have become popular as they can be moved around to create different areas and many will have large backs for privacy.

Teachers are benefiting due to the fact these different areas can be created, providing flexibility. Often, soft furnishings are placed in a ‘bonfire’ shape for storytelling to younger students.

Consider the space available and the amount of students that could be in the library at any given time.

Schools often have an office area in a library, as well as multiple computer stations on high benches. Consideration also needs to be given to soft/lounge breakout seating and the placement of furniture to suit different library genres. 

Architects are being used far more than in previous years, to create layouts for new areas. This helps the librarian to create an effective, creative and inspiring working area for students and teachers alike.

Clark Beatson is the sales manager at Int.workspaces. He explained why he feels schools can bring themselves up-to-date by refreshing their library…

Refurbishing your library is a key project, bringing your library back up-to-date with current technology and teaching methods. It can require significant capital expenditure and if you don’t get it right, you will be stuck with it for a few years so thorough planning is vital.

It is important that you step right out of your current library and dream from a blank canvas, so you’re not influenced by any of the current features of your library. Dream big: then, if you have budget constraints, you can stage the refurbishment, scale back the ‘nice to haves’ or fundraise within your community.

Begin by getting hold of a plan of your library building; imagine it with non-load bearing walls stripped out to open up your space; gather ideas from other libraries. Talking to students will also help but enlist experts too. Suppliers offer free consultations and have a wealth of knowledge from working with libraries all over the country.

Mobile bays of shelving and loose furniture can be wheeled around and easily reconfigured at any time to change the whole layout and functionality of your library. Your library may need to double as a teaching space, auditorium or makerspace lab – don’t trap yourself with fixed items.

Devices are now part of our way of life so a standing height bar with charging ports, and some barstools is a great idea and will encourage collaboration groups. It’s also great motivation for the students to have a chance to stand while they study.

Plan for change in décor too. Choose natural tones for your library with accents of bold to make it go bang. You could add colour with a few randomly scattered carpet tiles, your bay ends or a display wall. This will save cost and effort in the future as you can refresh again by changing the accents not the entire library.

STEM activities don’t have to take up a large amount of space. It could be as simple as having a mobile storage cupboard to store your STEM activities and some flip tables. If you have room, you may be able to include workbenches, whiteboard tables, a media hub or even a greenscreen and AV recording kit.

Flexibility doesn’t only have to be for the students. It’s as much your library as it is theirs so plan for you too. For example, books can be scanned and issued from your smartphone now, so do you need a fixed desk?

Refreshing your library will ensure that it remains that way into the future.

Suzanne Roxburgh-Blair is the sales team leader at Distinction Furniture. She spoke to us about some of her favourite elements of library refurbishment…

Image courtesy of Distinction

Soft furnishings have a bigger impact on students than the standard chairs and tables. It encourages quiet reading and can be used to create small and large collaborative areas.  Soft furnishings range from booth seating with tables, ottomans with and without backs, lounge seating, bean bags and cushions.

I have seen a few changing trends in library design, so research is a vital part of the process, ensuring the environment you wish to achieve meets the needs of students, teachers and sometimes the community. When designing furniture for spaces, take future trends on board, like makerspaces, presentation spaces, collaboration, connected and creative, quiet spaces.

Well thoughtout furniture can inspire, making the place feel relaxed, safe, comfortable and connected. Using colourful fabrics from reputable suppliers, comfortable soft furnishings and ergonomic seating to compliment flexible furniture for all different learning spaces is key.  

Planning a library refurbishment comes down to understanding what you want to achieve. This includes how much space is required to create the different learning spaces.

Some school libraries are shared between new entrants and seniors, so shared spaces, makerspace, creative spaces, and quiet spaces need innovative thought to allow different age groups to use the same space.

Flexible book display’s and functional storage units can help create space. Materials used can range from soft tones of timber to colourful panels.

Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.
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