Library Facility Design • Guiding Principles for Learning Spaces

Welcome to Guiding Principles for Learning Spaces. In this episode, we'll discuss the underlying ideas behind effective and compelling learning spaces. These principles can help you whether you're moving furniture around, adjusting your collection displays, or revamping the whole library.

Specifically, we'll explore connections to pedagogy, user-centered design, safety concerns, and sensory impacts on learning spaces.

Let's start by looking at pedagogy. The physical environment of a library inherently communicates pedagogical intent. In other words, the way a library is arranged signals how teachers and students will move--or not move--in a space and therefore what types of activities might happen there. For instance, a room with beanbags next to low bookshelves suggests time for independent reading, while a podium facing rows of chairs indicates the likelihood of a lecture.

The arrangement of the space not only allows, or disallows, certain pedagogical approaches, it also alerts those entering the space what those approaches are likely to be, which primes their expectations. This means that you'll want to look closely at the teaching theories prevalent at your school before any redesign occurs. We will cover this concept in the next lesson on assessing the needs of the learning community.

Another approach to consider incorporating is user-centered design, which comes from a software design philosophy that says users' needs should be given precedence over any other options. This perspective encourages student and teacher input in the library design process so that they are able to interact with the space in a way that's conducive to their learning and teaching. User-centered design is especially handy when thinking about visual cues in the library. What do signs tell students explicitly and implicitly? Is your library branded to make distinct areas easily recognizable? How are your users empowered to be self-directed in the space?

As you reflect on how student learning impacts spaces, it's also important to be cognizant of safety concerns. Make sure to consider sight lines. You want students be visible to a teacher or librarian no matter where the students are in the library. To help think through this, one question to ask yourself is, "What can staff see and not see when they're on the phone?" You'll also want to reflect on where students could get out of view of the entry in case of an emergency situation. Holding these conditions in mind helps ensure your library is compliant and also a safe place for all students.

A final area to explore is how physical spaces impact our sensory experience. The sounds, sights, even smells of the environment can calm, excite, or stress us. What senses are activated in your current space? How can you increase and decrease different sensory experiences to facilitate learning? Be intentional with lighting choices and aware of the effect of acoustics. Where will you place the noisiest aspect of library life? How can you soften sounds in individual reading nooks?

Sensory input also directly impacts emotion. And emotion influences learning. Think about how you can delight students' senses through color choice, art displays, and varied textures to elicit positive emotions when students come to the library.

As you begin envisioning new possibilities for your library space, consider the pedagogical, safety, and sensory impacts of your choices.

MLA Citation Editorial Team, SLC. "Library Facility Design: Guiding Principles for Learning Spaces." School Library Connection, January 2019,

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Entry ID: 2171738

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