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Big box libraries: beyond restocking the shelves with books

Traci Lesneski (Meyer Scherer & Rockcastle, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 4 October 2011




The purpose of this paper is to explore the opportunities, implications, and challenges of reusing big box retail stores for library facilities.


The paper's approach is research using the Wal‐Mart Realty database, NCES data on public libraries, and recent research on suburban design issues, as well as first‐hand accounts of successful conversions of big boxes into library facilities.


The research finds: a parallel between the three key objectives in planning a library facility – location, size, and budget – and the measures used by retailers to determine the presences of a big box retail store in a community; the size of big box retail stores often comparatively relates to the target library size of a community; renovating big boxes is an affordable alternative to building new library facilities; and reuse of big boxes for libraries requires reimagining the structure to convey the identity of the library in the community in order to be truly successful.

Research limitations/implications

There are few existing examples of big box conversions into library facilities.

Practical implications

The results encourage communities to explore the option of converting big box retail stores into libraries.

Social implications

Consideration of converting big boxes into library facilities enhances recycling and sustainable design awareness and brings focus to the concept of libraries as community centers.


The stock of empty big box buildings is increasing, at just a time when libraries are looking for ways to expand to accommodate new uses, service styles and user expectations. To date, very few of these buildings have been transformed into vibrant library buildings. This article examines the suitability of the big box for use as a library.



Lesneski, T. (2011), "Big box libraries: beyond restocking the shelves with books", New Library World, Vol. 112 No. 9/10, pp. 395-405.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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