Designing library spaces

Reading in a library window.

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Read our guide to designing innovative school library spaces. It includes case studies and links for further reading to inspire your thinking.

Think about your learners and school community

When designing your library space, it's important to think about the needs of your learners and your school community. A school library that's designed as an important, exciting and welcoming place will, when appropriately staffed and resourced, impact positively on teaching and learning in the school.

Designing library spaces for learning

Think about the needs of your learners and school community when you're designing your school library space. For example:

  • What do you want your library spaces to do?
  • What types of spaces and facilities do you need?
  • What do you need now?
  • What might you need in the future?

The design process should include a plan for gathering information and advice. Discussion with the school community is important at all stages. As part of the planning process, visit other school libraries to gather ideas.

In the following video, principals and librarians in Christchurch schools talk about how their libraries have changed from a traditional book hub to an energetic modern library learning environment (MLLE).

Modern Library Learning Environments in Christchurch schools (YouTube)


Key learning spaces in an innovative library learning environment

Consider how each of the following learning spaces is accommodated in your school library:

  • quiet space — to reflect, read and study
  • collaboration space — to discuss, brainstorm, share and tell stories
  • presentation space — to present, share and celebrate
  • breakout space — to discover, create, practice and share
  • makerspace — to play, experiment and design.

Characteristics of an innovative library learning environment

Characteristics of an innovative library space include a:

  • welcome, vibrant and culturally inclusive environment
  • large, flexible learning space based on fluid design principles
  • place for end-to-end learning: consuming, creating, producing and sharing new knowledge
  • balanced access to print, digital and multimedia collections
  • place of exploration and curiosity.

These characteristics will:

  • encourage readers to develop a passion for books and reading and become critically capable readers
  • allow library staff, teachers and students collaborate to find, use, share and create information
  • provide seamless access to information resources, advice and support to the classroom, home and mobile devices 24/7
  • strengthen the connection between home and school
  • create a whare pukapuka, and a meeting place for the school community.

Key stakeholders

Key people and groups to involve in the process of moving to an innovative library space are:

  • students and teachers
  • principals, school librarians and boards of trustees
  • architects and designers
  • National Library Services to Schools.

Whānau and the wider school community can also play a part in the discussion and communication process. This will ensure that the vision for the future is grounded in the school’s values and philosophy. It's important that the whole school community understands the rationale for change and the vision for the future.

The role of principals

The work to develop the shared vision of your library as a learning space is best led by the principal.

School principals: creating libraries as centres of learning

The role of librarians

School librarians are extremely important in improving learning results of students, including:

  • encouraging reading engagement
  • providing access to books and online information, and
  • promoting the teaching and sharing of digital literacy skills and digital citizenship among students and staff.

Your school library team


Library furniture, equipment, and signage

We’ve put together a list of suppliers of furniture, library equipment, and signage (including information about signs in te reo Māori) to help you with the design and fit out of your library. Some suppliers will work with you to source what you need or create custom pieces that fit your specific requirements and budget.

School library suppliers list


Examples of library spaces for learning

Read these articles and view the video for inspiration.

Divine design: how to create the 21st-century school library of your dreams — Margaret Sullivan talks about 5 design considerations that you shouldn’t overlook when planning your dream school library. New York examples.

Library ideas: a place to pin ideas from or for libraries around the world — Stephen Heppell's Pinterest with school library images featuring innovative features from libraries all over the world.

Modern Learning started in Libraries — so what is a future-focussed library? — Georgi de Stigter, Library Leader, records a summary of her journey in creating a library space at Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

School Libraries: excellence in practice at Amesbury School — In this video, Carolyn Knight, Teacher in the Library, and colleagues talk about how their school library supports literacy and student inquiry.   Amesbury School is a new Year 1-6 school in Churton Park, Wellington.


Find out more

Design thinking for libraries toolkit — Design Thinking for Libraries

Flexible learning spaces — "Enabling eLearning community", Te Kete Ipurangi, Ministry of Education

Flexible learning spaces in schools — Ministry of Education

Innovative learning environments — Ministry of Education

Innovative learning environments — Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

Learning furniture: a ‘don’t just stuff it’ guide — Council of Educational Facility Planners International

Modern learning environments and libraries — Mark Osborne, Core Education

School libraries shelve tradition to create new learning spaces — H Swain, The Guardian

School libraries work! A compendium of research supporting the effectiveness of school libraries — Scholastic Library Publishing

Universal design for learning — Te Kete Ipurangi, New Zealand Ministry of Education

6 active learning spaces your library should have — Diana Rendina

21st-century libraries: the learning commons — Beth Holland