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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1.      What is the monetary figure per square footage for library construction?

The general rule of thumb is $150 per square foot for a new building, $100 per square foot for remodeling. Note that for remodeling the figure presumes there are no major problems encountered.

2.      What is the figure to use for interior furnishings in a library?

Plan on $12-$18 for every $1000 of the budget. If you have a $100,000 building budget, plan on $1200 for interior furnishings.

3.      How do you determine how many public access computers you need in a library?

There are several factors that are important to consider when determining the number of public access computers a library needs. These factors include the daily traffic through the building (now and in the future)--some formulas suggest one for every 20 visits while other recommendations suggest one terminal for every 10 visits (or even fewer); the intended use of the stations – if more are extended use computers then the library will need more computers; the library staff’s observation of patrons waiting for access to computers presently on-site; and, the experience of neighboring libraries regarding the number of computers provided for the public.

For space planning consider both how many stations you need now and how many you will need for the future. Use a figure of 50 square feet per public access computer.

4.      Is there a way to determine how much shelf space the library will need?

How much shelf space the collection will need can vary in estimates from five to 30 volumes per square foot, depending on the height of the shelving, the width of the aisles, the type of material (reference versus children’s book). A general average is ten volumes per square foot.

The major presumption with 10 volumes per square foot is that the library is using full-height shelving that is 84 inches or 90 inches tall and is installed on five foot centers with a three-foot aisle, and that the top and bottom shelves have been left vacant for future expansion. If the library is going to use the top and bottom shelves and not set aside space for growth, use 15 volumes per square foot.

The Americans with Disabilities Act currently specifies that the aisles in a library bookstack should be no narrower than 36 inches, but a 42 inch aisle is strongly recommended. The 10 volumes per square foot figure presumes a 42 inch aisle. If the library has a substantial number of oversize books, the 10 volume figure would need to be reduced.

Also take into consideration that 10% of a collection is circulating at any one time, and subtract 10% of the collection figure to determine the square footage needed. Also note that other types of materials require a different volumes per square foot number. Periodicals on display require 1 square foot each, and titles not displayed (i.e. in storage) can be calculated as 0.5 square foot per title. Nonprint materials (videos, compact discs, audio books) can use a 10 items per square foot figure.

5.      How do I determine how many reader seats I should have in the library?

A broad recommendation is five reader seats for every 1000 people in the library’s chartered area. To calculate the space you would need for reader seats, multiply the number of projected seats by 30 square feet.

6.      How do I determine the amount of staff work space needed in the library?

A typical library staff work station needs between 125 and 150 square feet. Multiply the number of staff (you may choose to use FTEs to calculate the staff number) by a square footage figure between 125 and 150.

7.      Is there a way to determine how much space a meeting room or program room in the library should use?

For a general meeting room or program room, a library should plan on 10 square feet per audience seat, plus another 100 square feet for a speaker’s podium / presentation area at the front of the room. For a smaller conference room or meeting room, plan on 25 square per seat. For a storytime room plan for 10 square feet per child, plus another 50 square feet at the front of the room for the program leader. If storytimes general include crafts, add another 5 square feet per child. For a computer training lab, allow 50 square feet per station, plus another 80 square feet at the front of the room for the trainer.

Online Resources:
Library Architects:
The American Institute of Architects:
Twenty Questions to Ask Your Architect

rev.January 2005


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