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Space planning 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How do I determine how much space is needed in the library?

First you need to identify the population the expanded library will be expected to serve. This number should be projection of the population in the library’s service area for a planning time frame of 20 years. Estimates of the projected population for a public library’s service area may be available from the municipality, county, or from a regional planning organization. Local school districts may also be a source for such projections.

Then you need to determine collection space and growth. Use the library’s rate of collection growth and expand over the planning time frame to determine the total size the collection should be. 

2. Is there an example of how this calculation would work?

You can use the library’s current rate of addition to determine the size of the collection in 20 years. If the library currently has a collection of 35,000 volumes, and has a net gain (after withdrawals and deletions) or 650 volumes, then at the end of 20 years the library would have a collection of 48,000.

Or consider another method. If a library serves a chartered area of 12,000 people, the library should plan for a collection of 42,000 volumes (at 3.5 volumes per capita), 96 periodical titles (at 8 titles per 1,000 people), and 180 recordings (at 15 per 1,000 people). If the population was estimated to increase to 18,000 people in 20 years, the library should plan for space to house a collection of 63,000, with 144 periodical titles and 270 recordings.

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.

8.What other types of space are needed in a library?

Space for tables, newspaper racks, pamphlet files, microfilm readers, and photocopiers can be figured at a typical rate of 10% of the space needed for the collections, staff and meeting rooms.

Other space, sometimes called non-assigned space, is used for utility closets, rest rooms, corridors, stairwells, and other necessities that can take up 20 to 25% of the space of a building.

See also: Construction Projects / Space Planning

August 10, 2000, rev. July 13, 2001, rev. November 2002. rev. January 2005. rev. May 2006


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