Libraries Designed for Users: A 21st Century Guide

Trevor Peare (Project Manager, James Ussher Library Building, 1999‐2002 and Keeper (Systems), Trinity College Library Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 August 2004




Peare, T. (2004), "Libraries Designed for Users: A 21st Century Guide", Library Review, Vol. 53 No. 6, pp. 334-335.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This is a useful book to include as background reading for architects and librarians coming to a building project for the first time, as well as for students. Although focused on public libraries, the coverage is general enough where the aim is to increase usage and provide attractive environments combined with efficient infrastructure and layout. This is a revised edition of an earlier work that has remained in print for over 20 years.

The public library on the high street must compete for custom with all the other attractions surrounding it – shops and other outlets are designed to attract customers in, and once inside, to give a good “experience” so that visitors will sample what is on display and more importantly, return again for more. Retail outlets are designed to take advantage of our understanding of human psychology and behaviour – colours, lighting and locations of particular stock are all used to encourage shoppers to purchase and to enjoy the activity.

In the section that makes up the bulk of the book: “The planning of specific functional areas”, this competitiveness is recognised and starting with parking and entering considerations, the section goes on to include: browsing and magazine display areas; special spaces for children and teens; climate control; graphics, lighting and chairs; and finishing with a useful chapter on “quick improvements”. Each chapter gives an outline of good practices relating to the topics considered, and there are illustrations on how commercial offerings attempt to address a few of the issues discussed. However, the approach is not prescriptive; the author identifies the principles that should be followed, leaving it to the practicing librarian or architect to work out how to deliver the objectives in their situation, and the book is none the worst for this approach.

With signage, for example, the need for the library to be clearly identified to passing motorists and pedestrians is described: “The purpose for this sign is not just to locate the library but to remind people of its existence so it should be sized to compete with other street signs”. Then: “Another sign with hours should be on the entrance door or immediately outside the door in the direct line of sight”. All common sense, but how many reference books on the topic include such basic but essential material that gets the readers into the library in the first place? Once inside the building, the headings include: “Merchandising and finding – libraries and bookstores” and suggests that the layout of the entrance area should include a browsing area to the right of the door as it is found most people on entering usually turn right.

The book opens with an historical review of library design, continues with a section on the planning process and concludes with a useful “Source box” of model templates for specifications, a US address list of suppliers and a bibliography.

This is a really useful starting point for a student of library design and for those embarking on the scary process of attempting to put design into practice!

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