Your library might be purpose-built or its original purpose may have been a classroom, hall, resource room, staff room. When considering the physical environment it can be useful to walk around your school and see how easy it is to find your library. Are there signs directing you to it? What are first impressions once you arrive there? Are there small things you could change to help create a welcoming environment?
Warm, welcoming and appealing
Look for indications that the library is welcoming, warm and appealing. Are there signs letting you know what you can discover and do inside as opposed to what you can't do? What impressions do security gates or an imposing counter make as you enter?
A reader-friendly library is:
- spacious and light
- well-designed to cater for a variety of reading activities and events
- clearly laid out to encourage independent use
- comfortable with flexible seating for different-sized students
- easy to navigate with colour, signage and display to attract and support students
- arranged for maximum appeal and easy access to collections
- warm in winter, cool in summer and well-ventilated. If possible, it has access to the outdoors.
Create some relaxing, tucked away reading spaces out of traffic flows and distractions. And some social reading spaces where students can discuss books as a group.
Designing library spaces
Clear professional signs and notices
Clear professional signs will help orient your library users. Use a positive, friendly tone for any requirements.
You may wish to use external signs:
- directing people to the library
- welcoming students and the wider school community to the library
- showing that the 'Library is open'.
Also consider having:
- a whiteboard, computer monitor or TV highlighting upcoming events
- signs indicating different sections and sequences.
Ensure you have an up-to-date profile of your school community. Check to see whether your library accurately reflects the makeup of your community. Bilingual or multilingual signs can help to create a more inclusive environment.
School community profile
Shelving and collection arrangement
How you arrange and shelve your collection can affect students’ reading engagement. Ensure the arrangement is logical and accessible for all students.
Displaying book covers face-out helps students navigate the library more easily. Attractive book covers look interesting and appealing.
Using cover designs in this way is preferable to introducing systems of colour-coded dots on the spines. It takes a child's attention straight to the book instead of having to decode an unnecessary layer of complexity first.
— Rachel van Riel
Things to consider — shelving and collection arrangement
When thinking about shelving and collection arrangement consider the following:
- displaying covers face-out as much as possible to attract readers
- allowing space at the end of each shelf for face-out book displays
- keeping shelves at a height that will allow students to find resources with ease
- arranging fiction by genre
- weeding your collection on a regular basis.
Shelving guidelines for your school library
Arranging library fiction by genre
Displays to highlight your collections
Displays highlight and promote new or interesting items in your collection. They encourage students to explore new authors, titles and genres. Draw attention to new books by displaying them in a prominent position.
Displays may also be on a theme or topic. They can help students choose reading material by focusing on a smaller group of titles. Interactive displays encourage students to explore and investigate. New displays bring a fresh and dynamic element to each library visit.
Some ways to create effective displays are to:
- position displays in high profile areas, with good lighting
- have the display at the right height for students and with space for them to stand nearby
- make frequent changes to smaller displays
- allow students to borrow or reserve items from the display
- use art and other student work to add interest and encourage student involvement with displays.
Resources for developing library displays
Go to these sites for inspiration:
International Reading Association — website (US focus) has a calendar with author birthdays. Links to resources, websites, lesson plans
Sparklebox — downloadable library posters
Wordle — create word clouds from text
Furniture and fittings — comfortable and practical
Look for furniture that is colourful, comfortable, and practical. It should be suitable for different activities and different sized students. Ensure your issue desk is welcoming and accessible for younger and older students.
The library can be a good venue for reading-related meetings. Having suitable furniture and fittings can help support these gatherings. For example, home-school partnership meetings, Reading Together meetings, and book clubs.
Things to consider — furniture and fittings
Things to consider when thinking about furniture and fittings include:
- Floor coverings — soft but hard-wearing. Carpet and rugs are good for students who like to sit or lie on the floor to read.
- Soft furnishings — sun filter curtains or blinds if necessary. Cushions and bean bags need to be robust and have removable, washable covers.
- Seating — sofas and couches are popular, but take up a lot of room. Modular low chairs are more flexible.
Home-school reading partnerships
School library design gallery — examples of innovative UK school library designs
Create a social space
Create a social space in your library for students and the wider school community. Reading is both an individual and social activity. Balance this social space with quieter spaces and areas for collaboration.
Spaces for collaboration and quietness
Students working collaboratively will increase the sound levels in the library. It is unrealistic to expect complete quiet in school libraries. There are times for hush, and times for animated conversations having spaces that allow for both makes your library inviting. Some libraries play music during lunchtime which can enhance the atmosphere.
Library staff's role in creating an inviting atmosphere
The atmosphere and ambiance of a library is not only created by its physical environment. Library staff play an essential role in ensuring the library is warm and welcoming. By being encouraging and supportive, library staff can create an inviting atmosphere.
Helping students choose books for reading pleasure
Hosting activities in the library
Whenever possible, use the library to host reading-related activities and events. This reinforces the library as a social space.
Online library space
Digitised resources and mobile technologies enable school libraries to promote their services online. They also help to extend resources by going beyond the library's physical space.
Create and support readers with online library space
Use your online library space to create and support readers. Some digital technologies are particularly useful for different learning styles and needs. Having an online presence allows reading-related ideas, comments and recommendations to be exchanged outside of school hours.
Take a student-centred approach to designing your online presence.
Examples and ideas — online library space
For examples and ideas for your online library space, go to:
Reading promotion — ideas to promote your library online
Your school library online
Find out more
Universal Design for Learning — create an inclusive environment for students of all abilities and cultures
Van Riel, R, Fowler, O, & Downes, A. The reader-friendly library service. (2008). Newcastle upon Tyne: Society of Chief Librarians.