A group of children sitting in a school library surrounded by space-themed books.

How to get the space right for school libraries

SLS UKAdvice

Subject: School fundamentals

Topic: World challenges

Year Group: All stages and ages

Synopsis: There are three elements to the well-organised library – space, stock and staff – that lead to a fourth, personalisation, which will help your pupils get the best from your library resources.  Here Gillian Harris from Tower Hamlets SLS focuses on ways to create the right space.

Gillian Harris

Gillian Harris
Tower Hamlets SLS

Librarian’s view:

A well organised primary school library needs a space of its own – a safe haven which children are excited to explore. Shelves of books in a corridor do not invite browsing and mooching.   

Just as in your classrooms, displays are all important.  In the classroom they are usually about the topic you are studying, but in the library, they can be wider-reaching covering topical national issues, celebratory events and also highlight sections of the stock that might otherwise get missed.

The main furniture in your library is shelving.  Libraries need shelving that is robust enough to hold the weight of books, and enough metres of shelving so that as many books as possible can be displayed face-on to invite browsing.  When calculating how much shelf space you need, a rule of thumb is 100 books to a 900mm shelf, so that a “bay” of three shelves will hold 300 books.

Ideally reserve some shelves for face-on display and to allow for expansion. You might have a small stock now, but you need to be able to grow your library, so include extra bays for displays. You may also want kinder boxes and paperback spinners which enable the front covers of books to be seen.

Paperback spinner

Once books are on shelves, each section needs to be clearly and attractively labelled with both “bay” signs (a bay is a unit of three or four shelves) and individual shelf labels.

Then there’s seating – chairs and tables and comfortable seating for cuddling up with a book.  Bean bags can be lovely, but may not be suitable for adults with knee or leg issues (as they make it hard to get up) and the fillers are not easy to dispose of in an environmentally-friendly way once their time in your library comes to an end.

There are also suppliers who sell library rugs that brighten the space and enable you to define different areas of the library. 

Your imagination is the only limitation when designing a space to excite and enthuse children.  One library I know installed a library bath – with cushions in for children to cosy up with a book.  Others create hidey-holes within the shelving or have in their library a giant teddy for pupils to cuddle up to.  We lend schools “story tents” for children to gather inside and share books.

I’ve discussed the library computer in a previous post. LINK If you decide to have one, then it needs to be accessible. The librarian and teachers need to use it to add new books to the system, and check books in and out, as well as manage the library. You may also want children to be encouraged to use the search facility in the catalogue to find books in the library. If that’s what your school needs, will just one computer be enough? https://sls-uk.org/introducing-a-computerised-library-system-into-a-primary-school/

Schools Library Services can provide help with planning and designing your library, as well as advise about local suppliers of quality shelving, so do get in touch with questions.

If you found this post helpful you may enjoy:

Introducing a computerised library system into your primary school: