New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Facility Planning: Making Sense of Data - Facility

Part 9 of the Facility Planning Series by Karen Watson & Robert Hubsher

In this article we continue to discuss how to build up a repository of information about your library.  Keep this data at hand for your reference and use it as you develop your strategies for communicating your library’s facilities requirements to the public, your Board and designers.  

This data will also be indispensable when the time comes to make your case for funding a new addition or building and communicating your needs to an architect or designer.

Know what you have.
A critical part of determining the need for reconfiguring, expanding or constructing a new library building is a thorough understanding of the current building layout and the ways in which it is used. It is essential to understand how the existing library building hinders or facilitates the provision of services and programs included in the library's strategic plan.

Out of the office – into the library.
Much of the data gathering related to public and staff use of the building can only be done through direct observation. For this data to be useful, the observations must be carried out at different times of the day, different days of the week, and at different times of the year to capture the ebb and flow of library use. Although this is time consuming, there is no better way to understand how your current facility is being used.

A good starting point is to facilitate and document discussions with the entire library staff and the library board to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the building. Here are some questions that can help to focus these discussions (in no particular order):

•    Is there sufficient space for books and other library materials?
•    Are there sufficient parking spaces?
•    Does the children's area provide sufficient space for staff to carry out their programs?
•    Is there a children's washroom? Does it have child-size friendly fixtures? Is the space large enough for an accompanying adult? Is the door to the washroom visible to the staff?
•    Is there sufficient a variety of seating to accommodate needs?
•    Are teens attracted to the building? Do the teens have a dedicated space that they feel is their own?
•    Can you hold a program for adults that will accommodate those who want to attend?
•    Are there sufficient computers available for public access?
•    Is there enough storage space?
•    Are there sufficient staff workspaces?
•    Is there sufficient space to safely and unobtrusively store book trucks loaded with materials waiting to be re-shelved?
•    Is the library a destination? Why? Why not?
•    Does the building have adequate ventilation?
•    Are there areas in the building that are too hot in the afternoon?
•    Does noise carry through the building?
•    Are there physical barriers that make the building inaccessible, or difficult to access, for people with disabilities, or the elderly?
•    Can the building accommodate the anticipated growth or changing demographics in your community's population?
•    Does the library building have a civic presence?
•    Should the Friends of the Library group have a designated space in the building?
•    Should the library include a space for a food vendor? Should this area be accessible after hours?
•    Is the multipurpose space accessible after hours?

Add other questions based on your own experience of working within the facility, from your conversations with library users and from experiences you have had in other library buildings.

What works, what doesn’t work and why.
It is essential to document the elements or features of the existing building that work well. There may also be intangible qualities of the building that the staff and public appreciate and value. You will need to document these for use during the preliminary design phase of the project. For example, people may like the coziness of the spaces or the way the natural light fills a particular room in late afternoon.

As you capture and record pertinent data about the existing library building consider the following 5 categories around which you may organize your investigations and statistics.

Capacity – 1. A measure of the amount of furniture, equipment or people that can be accommodated within a space or area. E.g. Can the story hour room accommodate fifteen children and the staff person(s)?)
2. A measure of the capability of furniture and equipment to support the intended purposes. E.g. Can the study carrels accommodate individuals with laptops?

Use - The number of times or the manner in which a particular space or thing is used.

Access - The ability to approach, enter or use the building or a space within the building.

Condition - The physical characteristics of the building or a space within the building.

Functional relationships - The manner in which different spaces/functions within and surrounding the library building interrelate. You may ask such questions as:  Are closely related functional areas, such as the circulation workroom and the book return, near each other? Are the accessible parking spots close to the library entrance?


Your Strategic Plan is the substrate for all your data gathering work.
Throughout these discussions it is important to focus on the goals and objectives of the strategic plan, which reflects the community's needs and has implications for the building requirements. This is not an abstract exercise concerning the way a generic library building works, but rather a directed investigation into how your building supports the services and programs outlined in your library's strategic plan.

If your strategic plan calls for the inclusion of spaces that do not exist in the current building, for example, a Café, a Friend's Shop, or a Teen Space, visit libraries that have those spaces and talk to the library staff about what works and the lessons learned by the librarians in those sitiuations. You may want to engage members of the community who have experience with similar types of spaces, for example, someone who runs a small coffee shop or a boutique. In the case of a teen room, for it to be at all successful, it is wise to engage local teens in a conversation about their expectations and interests so that there is enough space and the right kind of space and furniture to accommodate the anticipated uses. (Teen Spaces: the Step-by-Step Library Makeover, second edition by Kimberly Bolan is a useful resource.)  Including teen users in some of the purchasing decisions has been a successful strategy for getting and retaining buy-in from this important demographic in your library community.

In our next article we will address in detail how to organize and interpret – make sense – of the data you are collecting about your library building and what you need in your new one, by structuring the data into five categories: Capacity; Use; Access; Condition and Functional Relationships.

Click here to read Part 8 of this series.
Click here to read Part 7 of this series.
Click here to read Part 6 of this series.
Click here to read Part 5 of this series.
Click here to read Part 4 of this series.
Click here to read Part 3 of this series.
Click here to read Part 2 of this series.
Click here to read Part 1 of this series.