UK Library Buildings: An Insider’s Perspective on Activity 2011 – 2015

by Karen Latimer


James Campbell and Will Pryce in their world history of libraries comment that it is hard to reconcile talk of a crisis in library design due to spending cuts and the decline in importance of printed material with “the continued explosion in library construction in the first decade of this century and the large number of library buildings currently being built. For a construction sector in crisis it seems to be a remarkably healthy one”[1]. The Designing Libraries website records over 60 UK library projects completed in the five years from 2011 – 2015, the majority of which are refurbishments or extensions. Some were very significant enhancements of older buildings including historic buildings of major architectural importance. Trends include an increasing focus on user requirements, community awareness, energy efficiency and sustainability. While it became more difficult to secure funding for library buildings, librarians who were fleet of foot, had adjusted to meet new demands and remained at the heart of their respective communities, were able to make the case to funding authorities to provide attractive, well-designed physical spaces to deliver increasingly varied and electronic services. It is not possible in a blog to do justice to the various developments and more detail can be obtained from a chapter in British Librarianship and Information Work 2011-2015 on which this blog is based[2].

Design Trends

Adherence to standards is less rigid in the 21st century than used to be the case when library design was more focused on housing large collections with substantial areas of closed as well as open stacks requiring recommended aisle widths and lighting levels. Seating areas were previously more formal with less variety in their arrangement and lower demand for group study spaces. The emphasis now is very much on ubiquitous access and a combination of informal, relaxed seating and a range of different study spaces. Aligning plans for libraries with the needs of the community, whether it be a public or an academic library, means that no longer does one rule suit all. Nonetheless, when planning a library project, it remains essential to define space needs for users, collections, staff and meeting areas as well as the space for building services, circulation and other behind the scenes activities. Differing uses of space, learning and research requirements from a user perspective, staff needs, post-occupancy evaluation, green issues and sustainability have come to the fore, emphasising the use of environmentally friendly building materials, regenerative energy and the successful conservation of existing building fabric. Cost-effective off-site, or indeed on-site, storage using robotics and automation is being emphasized for libraries with large heritage collections.

Ubiquitous and high quality IT and Wi-Fi facilities and access to ever-increasing e-collections are now essential ingredients in any new or refurbished libraries.  Accommodating long opening hours, providing a wide variety of seating and study spaces to suit all styles of learning, study and research with special areas for different types of users have emerged as matters to be addressed. Increased attention is being paid to the design of staff areas with much debate about open-plan versus individual office space. As libraries subscribe more and more to the same resources, one of the things that differentiates them is their special collections and archives, so these are acquiring a higher profile in the allocation of space. In universities, learning and teaching spaces increasingly are being incorporated into or managed by the libraries, and in all types of libraries inclusion of makerspaces and creative spaces has made its way across the Atlantic. A useful document The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit[3] provides details of trends in the design of learning spaces which are affecting all types of libraries. The previously mentioned Designing Libraries website highlights trends providing details of architects’ designs, plans and images for innovative new libraries, the management of library building projects, moving collections, acoustics and topics like how to photograph a library.

Academic Library Buildings

The UK higher education sector continued to expand between 2011 and 2015 and with postgraduates and international students paying higher fees, many universities did their utmost to attract such students. This obviously had an impact on library services and on library spaces. There was an increasing call for dedicated postgraduate spaces and many examples of students being consulted on the kind of study and learning spaces they required. Universities aspiring to climb the rankings tables recognised the importance of good library buildings.

Winners of the SCONUL Library Design Award included the Augustine House Library and Student Services Centre at Canterbury Christ Church University and the McClay Library at Queen’s University Belfast. Key features were the bringing together of services and the provision of a high-quality technology-rich building with a wide variety of study and learning spaces. The University of Exeter saw the linking of new learning spaces, social facilities and all key student services with the library with a doubling of library seating capacity, refurbishment of the study environment with greatly increased numbers of PCs, power sockets and, of course, pervasive Wi-Fi throughout. The University of the West of Scotland library on the Ayr campus made very flexible use of space and provided individual and group study spaces as well as presentation and seminar areas. The Esteve-Coll Centre at Kingston which opened in 2012 involved the refurbishment of a 1930s space and the relocation of the Learning Resources Centre to create an interdisciplinary learning zone at the heart of the campus.

The Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen opened to readers in 2011. The building was much fêted in the architectural press in particular and its architects, Schmidt Hammer Lassen, already with the Black Diamond in Copenhagen under its collective belt, went on to take awards and plaudits for its cutting edge DOKK1 library and media centre in Aarhus in 2016. The new library at Aberdeen brought together two collections, following a major weed of unused stock, from outdated 1950s and 1960s buildings into a dramatic seven-storey, glazed cube with a since much-imitated skewed curvilinear atrium. As well as providing up-to-date facilities for students, this building also had a public remit with a café on the ground floor as well as space for exhibitions and events. A few years later, in 2013, Robert Gordon University opened its new library on a riverside campus to the south of Aberdeen. The library occupies the top five floors of a tower in the centre of the campus and is very much part of an integrated interdisciplinary learning space.

Another exemplar library building which opened in 2011 was the stunning restoration and reuse for Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London of a 19th-century granary warehouse as part of the new King’s Cross regeneration project. The conversion retained original features, creating a wonderfully atmospheric interior while also providing very practical user spaces. A new library for the University of East London at its Stratford campus opened in 2012 providing “collaborative learning spaces, interactive technologies, self-service facilities for library users, as well as a special collections area and reading room”[4] . Discussions had been held from an early stage with students and they continued to be involved right up to the selection of furniture stage.

Two new libraries that sparked great interest in 2014 were those for Oxford Brookes and the University of Greenwich. Both demonstrated well-thought out briefs responding to new requirements which, not surprisingly, resulted in a significant increase in use. The key goals were to provide welcoming, secure, inspirational, IT-enabled spaces for study, learning and research with a wide choice of seating and environments. The libraries were located to ensure students had easy access to a range of other facilities related to their educational and social life at university. Staff needs, so often left to last, were carefully thought out. The following year, 2015, saw the development at the Laidlaw Library at Leeds University of a very successful, welcoming, highly sustainable undergraduate facility encouraging independent study where students can come with their own mobile devices and choose from a wide range of individual and group study areas.

Another 2015 RIBA award-winning library is the Brynmor Jones Library at the University of Hull. The redevelopment and refurbishment of this iconic library building created up-to-date facilities which combined open and collaborative learning spaces with traditional spaces for its collections while respecting the architecture of the original building. It very successfully brought together and unified the art deco and brutalism periods of the old buildings and in the process created a library fit for the future. Achieving a successful outcome says much for the relationship between librarian and architect and the importance of the design brief in the planning process. One of the most breathtaking libraries opened in 2015 was the Weston Library (formerly known as the New Bodleian Library) at the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford. It was a major refurbishment project which achieved a new environment with innovative services for researchers while providing wider public access to the collections through exhibitions and events. Much of the rich art deco interior was retained. Achievements were the creation of high quality storage of valuable collections; the support of advanced research; improved speed of access to the collections using digital technology; the expansion of public access; and the improvement of the environment for teaching and learning. The realization of this project was helped by the previous construction of Oxford University’s book storage facility at Swindon.

Two university libraries taking an incremental improvement approach in recent years are Durham University and the University of Edinburgh. At Durham the Main Library, now renamed the Bill Bryson Library, was completely refurbished and a new extension added. The law and music collections were transferred to the new space, staff were moved to a new open-plan workroom to improve adjacencies, the number of study spaces was increased, greater wireless capacity and power to all study spaces were provided and the mechanical and electrical systems upgraded. At Edinburgh, the listed 1967 Basil Spence-designed library underwent a major renovation and was very sensitively handled over several phases, the most recent being completed in 2013. The aim was to create an intellectual hub for the University where users could interact with each other and with information specialists while also building in flexibility to accommodate the inevitable future changes.

Collaboration on the provision of learning and teaching space continued, the way having been paved by projects such as the Warwick Learning Grid, the Saltire Centre and Sheffield’s Information Commons. The University of Sheffield in September 2015 opened what they saw as the next stage in the evolution of such facilities. The Diamond is an impressive mixture of library functions, study spaces and teaching zones. The Alan Gilbert Learning Commons at the University of Manchester is another leading example of this type of space.

Public Library Buildings

There is no doubt that the functions of public libraries and academic libraries are moving closer and from a design and planning point of view much can be learnt from one type of library and applied to another. A library which provided a very clear link between the academic and public library sectors was the Hive, University of Worcester, which opened in 2012. The Hive brought together the University of Worcester and Worcester County Council and Public Library to deliver a service together to all their user groups. Staff from all services work together and visitors, be they small children, university students or members of the public seeking council services, are welcomed enthusiastically. The theory is that all users benefit from access to collaborative services.  For the University, it is the physical embodiment of its aim to impact positively on its community. The Hive is a building that would appear on anyone’s shortlist for key library buildings in the early 21st century.

The picture is less glowing for more conventional public library buildings opened over the five-year period. Undoubtedly cuts in funding have had an impact on the physical buildings which house the services under threat or at least change although many consider that the library will continue to offer a safe and neutral community space featuring excellent customer service and advice.  There have been several innovative new library buildings and sensitive refurbishments carried out.

The Library of Birmingham opened to much fanfare, heavy use and controversy in 2013.  The building itself has received much-deserved praise but funding issues have beset the library.  The exterior reflects Birmingham’s industrial heritage and history of jewellery making and the interior provides a place of many spaces and many functions with publicly accessible gardens and a roof terrace, a dark circular reading room as well as the re-erected Shakespeare Memorial Room reached by a dramatic glass lift and much more.

The other two major central libraries opened during this period are restoration projects. In Manchester, the aim of the refurbishment was to make more of the building accessible to the public and provide more reading space. Four storeys of book stacks were removed and replaced by a large circular reading room and archive search area near the entrance. The re-ordering of the original space saw the insertion of modern servicing, ICT and power, as well as the addition of a welcoming entrance. A nearby café, exhibition space, film booths and local studies facilities have all helped to ensure the continuing use of an impressive, historic library building.

Like Manchester, Liverpool closed its central library for refurbishment in 2010, reopening with much acclaim in 2013.  Post-war additions were successfully stripped away and new spaces created while retaining and restoring the magnificent Picton Reading Room of 1879 and also the later Oak Room and Hornby Library. A new entrance was created and a stunning six-storey high atrium with slanting columns and staircases and escalators leading to well-equipped reading rooms, the collections, computer facilities, archives and a rooftop terrace. As well as providing social spaces, books on shelves are visible and there are quiet spaces dedicated to reading and research.

Several smaller but notable new library buildings opened between 2011 and 2015 and low-budget refurbishments and upgradings were undertaken. Hepburn central library near Newcastle was one project and another was the 2011 Canada Water library. An inverted pyramid is strategically located beside the tube and bus stations and is both sculptural and practical.  The floors become progressively wider and quieter as they go up and are accessed via a dramatic staircase with the noisier activities, café and performance space on the ground floor. Another smaller library of note in this period was Studio Egret West’s new Clapham library in Lambeth which opened in 2012. This exciting library, with its circular form, spiral staircase and openings onto the children’s and public area, has echoes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Gehry and Gunnar Asplund in its design as well as a nod to the Italian piazza. The movable furniture and a range of break-out and quiet areas give it variety and flexibility. The library is part of a larger development with a health centre adjacent to it and housing above and demonstrates the advantage of co-location in terms both of use and funding. More recently the latest of the ground-breaking Idea Stores opened in 2013, eleven years after the first one opened in Bow in 2002, closely followed by further iterations in Chrisp Street and Whitechapel in 2004 and 2005. It takes the customer-comes-first retail approach of its predecessors and with a good connection to the adjacent street market and public thoroughfare, hosts a range of council and community services. There is a flexible layout with movable furniture and it is highly sustainable.


The five years 2011–2015 saw, perhaps surprisingly, a great deal of British library building activity particularly in the academic library sector, including refurbishments, extensions, some of them very major indeed, and a range of new buildings of varying sizes in all sectors. This overview merely scratches the surface and highlights some key projects. It is interesting to note that moves are afoot to revive the Public Library Awards, perhaps spurred on by the opening of much-fêted The Word designed by Faulkner Brown and other recent developments. The winners of the 2016 SCONUL Awards (just outside the scope of this blog posting) featured The Hive (the academic/ public library partnership mentioned above), the major refurbishment of the listed Modernist Hull University Library and libraries that had worked hard on creating effective learning and research spaces based on user feedback. Brexit looms in the future and challenges abound. Libraries and librarians are good at reinventing themselves and opportunities for further developments present themselves. Tom Hickerson has noted thathigh-tech, high-quality spaces supported by technical and intellectual expertise with a great service ethic were an unbeatable combination”[5]. There are challenges ahead but the future for library buildings still looks healthy and exciting.

The Word
The Word

[1] James W. P. Campbell and Will Pryce, The library: a world history. London: Thames & Hudson, 2013

[2] Karen Latimer “Library buildings” in J.H. Bowman British librarianship and information work 2011-2015. London: Published by the editor via , 2017 pp.411-426

[3] The UK Higher Education Learning Space Toolkit. Produced by the Standing Conference for Heads of Media Services, the Association of University Directors of Estates and the Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association

[4] Cathy Walsh, “University of East London: the new Stratford campus library”, SCONUL focus 59, 2013, 37–8

[5] Hickerson, Tom, ‘Designing 21st century spaces for 21st century roles’, Feliciter 60 (6), 2014, 15–18

Author details

Karen Latimer currently chairs the UK Designing Libraries Advisory Board and chaired the IFLA Library Buildings & Equipment Standing Committee from 2007 – 2011. She is a member of the LIBER European Research Libraries Architecture Group and a founding member and past secretary of the UK Architecture Librarians Group, ARCLIB.  She was also Chair of Hearth Housing Association and Revolving Fund, a building preservation trust which restores historic buildings for social housing or resale, from 2000-2015.

Karen has published widely on a range of library and architectural topics and frequently speaks at national and international conferences.  Karen is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals, an honorary member of the Royal Society of Ulster Architects and was awarded an OBE in 2007 for services to architectural heritage.

To Flex or Not to Flex? And How to Flex?

by Denelle Wrightson


Modern libraries are asked to be many things to many people many times each day. While space needs for collections have remained static or decreased, the need for areas of varying sizes for events, programs, meetings, collaboration and creating content has exploded.

Spaces of different sizes are required to accommodate:

  • Large community meetings and events programmed for up to 300 people and held a few times each year
  • Weekly programs for 30 – 50 children or adults and special events for 100 or more
  • Alternative uses of spaces intended for events and programs when none is being held
  • Diverse user behaviour and the need for collaborative and quiet spaces
  • Speedy transformations to suit a variety of purposes

Flexible Spaces can be Greener and Less Expensive

In addition to providing for a variety of uses, flexible spaces have other advantages. They support aims of greater sustainability and are usually less costly and faster to build and maintain than spaces with solid walls. For example, a design for a meeting space that includes three separate rooms for meetings of 50, 100, or up to 300 participants would require approximately 5,000 square feet (465 square metres). A project like this would typically cost about US$250 per square foot (approx.US$2325 per square metre), or US $1,250,000 for the total project.

In contrast, one large divisible room for 300 would take 3,200 square feet (297.3 square metres) of space. Assuming the use of the highest performance and cost of movable walls to allow the room to be easily divided three ways into alternative configurations, the cost would be US$1,000,000. Reducing the size has a very positive impact by lowering the footprint required for the building and its overall cost. At the same time, the environmental impact would be less with a more efficient use of the site, lower demand for building materials and reduced energy consumption. Movable walls can be introduced into existing or new spaces.

Creating Flexible Spaces

There are many ways to create flexible spaces. Mobile furniture can be used to rearrange areas and is often found in children’s sections in libraries to create room for presenting programs or in open library areas to accommodate exhibitions or special events.  Portable dividers, movable partitions and even curtains can be used to create space separation. Acoustical or sound separation between spaces is very important when there are simultaneous events, meetings, programs or collaborative activity adjacent to each other. Creating movable (sometimes known as operable[1], mobile or flexible) walls has become a more effective solution to the creation of separate spaces when sound containment is required.

Too many Choices? Deciding Which Approach is Best

The variety of flexible wall solutions available can be very confusing and the advantages and disadvantages of each difficult to assess. Demountable walls can be used. Garage-type opening doors are also used to segregate spaces. Sliding glass doors, folding walls or accordion partitions and side-stacking mobile walls are also possibilities. The following describes some of the options.

Demountable Walls

Most of the major office furniture manufacturers offer some type of demountable wall which can be installed in any open space.  If sound separation is important, the space will need a ceiling ideally no higher than 12 feet (3.66 metres). The modular panels rest on the floor and anchor to the ceiling. They can be made of many materials, ranging from glass to markerboard, with fabric or painted surfaces. They are very effective for changing large open areas into several smaller spaces. Installation is quick and efficient.  They can be cost competitive with conventional fixed walls, with reduced downtime while providing the ability to reconfigure. The end result of using demountable walls is as close as possible to standard wall construction with some level of flexibility. The solution does not provide for day to day reconfiguring of the walls. This class of premanufactured wall is intended for occasional use and movement when there is a change to the normal use of the building. The Sound Transmission Coefficient (STC) is 50 for solid walls and 45 STC for walls that include glass.

Garage Doors

Many libraries have started to use garage or overhead coiling doors to provide a way to open interior space easily to the exterior or to open one space into an adjoining space.  This solution is most cost-effective and provides the option of using glass panels or more standard opaque doors. The size of the opening is limited but multiple doors can be combined. As these doors do not seal well to their adjacent fixed walls, the acoustical and climate separation is on the low end for flexible partitions. The other cautionary note is that garage-type doors require tracks suspended from a ceiling and when in the open position cover any items in or suspended from the ceiling including lights, sprinkler heads, supply and return heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, and smoke detectors. A coiling overhead door eliminates the tracks, but requires space for a large box above the opening to hold the retracted door. A garage-type door is the least expensive solution but provides the least amount of sound separation. The Sound Transmission Classification (STC) for this kind of separation is approximately 15.

Sliding Glass Doors

Sliding glass doors are offered by many manufacturers such as Modernfold and Hufcor. Both these companies operate internationally. Sliding glass doors provide good visual connection between spaces as well as transparency of activity and facilitate the use of natural light. Some require a floor track and rail for the panels to slide along. Others use ceiling tracking systems. The maximum standard height is 10 feet (6 metres) with the width of the panels varying according to various international standards and practices (24 – 48 inches in the United States). The glass panels when open can stack to either one or two sides. Panels are single or paired. With single panels, each panel pivots and slides to the stacking location. With paired panels, two panels fold before sliding to the stacking location. Some manufacturers offer these systems with manual or electric operation. Pass doors can be included. The STC varies greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer.  Some include seals typical of outdoor, weather resistant models and achieve very high STCs similar to those for demountable walls. These high-performance walls usually require a raised threshold and may not be suitable for some spaces, due to disability concerns. Changes in the installation will limit the STC value to about 30.

Accordion Partitions

Accordion or folding partitions have been used for many years. They provide a visual separation between two spaces and are very quick to open and close, and almost as easy as opening a curtain. Folding partitions can be used to create an enclosure around a corner and provide for greater design flexibility. They function in openings up to 12 feet (3.66 metres) high and 60 feet (18.3 metres) wide. They provide useful sound attenuation if the sound separation type is specified appropriately. The least expensive type provides no rated STC, while the highest rated can provide up to STC 40.

Acoustical Side-Stacking Mobile Walls

Several manufacturers make high quality side stacking mobile walls.  Two of the largest in the United Sates include Modernfold and Hufcor. As already noted, these companies operate worldwide and both offer hinged walls which operate electrically and employ top and bottom sound seal systems. These panels can be up to 40 feet (12 metres) high and have openings up to 230 feet (70 metres) wide. They are available in a wide variety of finishes and design and are primarily intended for large convention centres, hotels and ballrooms. They stack in a variety of ways. The important issue to remember when selecting this solution, similar to the sliding glass partitions, is the space necessary to store the stacked panels when open. In a typical multi-purpose meeting room where the flexible opening is 40 feet (12 metres) wide, a storage area of approximately 5 square feet (.5 square metres) would be required, resulting in a reduction in seating capacity of up to 60 seats, or reduced sightlines within the building. The STC ranges from 28 to 56.

Manual operation of the panels is available at a reduced cost. The panels inevitably require more time to open and close manually and tend to have maintenance issues with alignment and sound seals, especially at the bottom.

Acoustical Vertically Stacking Mobile Walls

The Cadillac of flexible wall solutions is the acoustical vertically stacking mobile wall system.  It is the only mobile system that does not need floor space to store the panels and is available in an electric version only since it raises the panels vertically and stores them in the ceiling.  It requires adequate space and structural support.  The leader in producing this type of partition is Skyfold who offer glass as well as opaque panels.  The company is based in Canada but operates worldwide. All the options available with demountable walls and side stacking panels are offered.  This solution is the most expensive but does not require the additional floor storage space associated with other mobile solutions.  This system is the only one capable of providing a mobile partition with the highest STC of 60.

Sound Separation and STC Rating

Sound Testing Classification (STC) measurements have been provided for the various options outlined. Some qualifying remarks about STC values are needed. The ones quoted are the manufacturers’ laboratory test values. In the laboratory, the sample is installed and sealed as perfectly as possible, yielding better results than would be typically received in field construction, even with good workmanship. Acousticians typically lower the published laboratory-tested value by at least 5 STC points to provide a more realistic assessment for the expected performance in real life. What does an STC of 40 versus 60 mean? Below is a general guideline of what the real results of the different STC ratings mean.

The following Sound Transmission Class (STC) ratings provide the described subjective noise isolation.  The isolation provided is highly dependent on quality of construction and level of detailing, but is a good baseline from which to select different partition types.  We recommend these be reviewed with the Owner to determine which level of isolation is required as specific noise sensitive areas[2]

Table 1. STC Rating

STC Subjective Noise Isolation
  40 Normal Level voices can be heard with some effort including some individual words and phrases. Raised level voices and music could be heard with little effort.
  45 Normal level voices could be heard with great effort — subjectively heard as a murmur. Raised voice conversations could be heard with some effort including some individual words or phrases. Music, especially low frequencies, could be heard easily.
  50 Normal level voice conversations effectively blocked. Raised voice conversations heard with effort — subjectively heard as muffled voices.  Music heard, especially low frequencies.
  55 Loud speech heard faintly. Music audible with low frequencies considered disturbing.
  60 Loud speech effectively inaudible. Music faintly heard, but low frequency sounds still disturbing.
  65 Loud music heard faintly which is problematic if adjoining spaces are highly sensitive to noise. Sound flanking limits most partitions to STC 65 on suspended floor slabs.
  70 Most noises effectively blocked. STC 70+ may not be achievable in the field due to sound flanking paths. Exceptional detailing and QC is required to achieve high noise isolation.


Cozby Library
Cozby Library and Community Commons, Coppell, Texas


The need for greater flexibility in library buildings has become apparent, with changing user behaviour and the provision of additional services to meet wide-ranging community needs. Movable partitions and walls provide the opportunity for constant reconfiguration of library spaces. The higher quality (and more expensive) movable partitions can allow for simultaneous events in adjacent rooms. The STC of the chosen solution is relevant to the type of use. Compatibility from a noise standpoint will always be an issue. It would not be wise, for example, to locate the Jane Austen Club meeting next to the Hip Hop Club gathering or the Bridge Club next to the Teens’ Homework Group. Even the best demountable or moving partition is not designed to isolate loud, low frequency sounds, and the same would be said for standard gypsum board as well. However the Jane Austen Club next to the Mystery Writers’ Club should be able to coexist just fine. The use of movable walls and partitions within libraries provides for greater flexibility, space optimization and effective and efficient operations.

[1] An operable (movable) wall is a system of individual solid or glazed panels that can moved independently from each other which when fitted together end to end form a continuous flat, faceted or curved wall. Operable wall panels are designed to be easily maneuvered and operated. They are top hung from either a surface or recessed mounted head track and no floor track is required. Various head track formations are possible to provide different stacking options. Each panel is provided with interlocking seals to each vertical profile, retractable top and bottom seals are either manually or electrically operated. The seals pressure close against the ceiling channel and floor to provide a continuous seal. Individual panels can incorporate single or double door sets and junction panels to form various configurations. Final closure of the wall can be by a telescopic panel, extending wall jamb or full height door.

[2] STC chart created by Texan acoustical consulting firm WJHW 

Author details

Denelle Wrightson is the President of Library Planning & Design. She is based in Dallas, Texas, and provides advice and assistance to libraries, specializing in the areas of master planning and programming for public libraries. She has been involved in over 250 library projects and worked on all types of libraries. She is a LEED Accredited Professional and was Chair of the ALA LAMA Library Interiors & Furniture Committee from 2011 to 2017. Denelle is the ALA representative on the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee from 2015-2019.

Photo credits: Lara Swimmer, Dirtt, Haworth, Modernfold, Hufcor, Skyfold, Cozby Library and Community Commons, Coppell, Texas.


Does it Fit? Transforming a Heat and Power Plant into a Library Building

by Anette Franzkowiak


The building under consideration for conversion to alternative use was originally a heat and power plant built in the early twentieth century. It was partially dismantled during the 1960s and extended so that the local university, Leibniz Universität Hannover (LUH), could use it for teaching technical and engineering subjects.

The building has now become available for re-use. Is it possible to convert the building into a library space? Can a building originally constructed as a heat and power plant be re-purposed as a library? A glimpse of the initial planning and thinking is provided.

Heat & Power plant
The Heat and Power Plant with its chimney and an extension completed in the sixties
Interior Hall
Interior of one part of the hall, closed because of contamination, to be removed before re-use









Does it Fit?

The Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB) is the German National Library of Science and Technology and as such takes responsibility for collecting materials for all areas of engineering, as well as architecture, chemistry, information technology, mathematics and physics; it is also the University Library for Leibniz Universität Hannover (LUH). As a national specialized library, it plays a significant role in the national information and research infrastructure of Germany.

TIB’s main site is in the immediate vicinity of the Main Building of LUH. Other branches of the Library are located elsewhere on the campus and on the southern edge of Hannover. The University has restructured and the building known as the former Heat and Power Plant has been made available for re-use as the TIB’s main site. TIB can use the building to combine two specialist branch libraries and the University Archives into one building, providing significant operational advantages.

The Heat and Power Plant building contains various installations undertaken over the years for experimental facilities for the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. The building features several smaller rooms which contained workshops, seminar rooms and offices up until the time the building was vacated.

How can the existing building’s capacity for library use be tested? Will the Heat and Power Plant fit with the spaces required for use as a library building?

Basic Steps to Support the Design Process

The first step, as always, involves establishing the basics: analysing the situation, formulating objectives, identifying space requirements and developing desired outcomes. The space allocation plan must be subsequently developed, outlining the space needs. The next step relates to preparing a list of functions for the spaces, and assigning the functions to spaces, rooms and areas. Depending on the complexity of the relationships and links between the functions, it may be easier to combine rooms and spaces that belong together in terms of their content or function into clusters to illustrate relationships and to test the fit of the existing building for new purposes.

The aim of the preliminary investigation is to ascertain whether the areas identified can be mapped in real size into the existing building without considering at this stage potential design impacts. Even so, consideration must be given to some other aspects, such as the existing fabric, physical structure and positioning of the building, and any special features in terms of cubature and visual impact.

The Requirements

To determine area and space requirements, the necessary input variables must first be identified and defined. The known input variables will be: areas for users and reading desks, media collections and human resources. There will be differences in the emphasis placed on each and the aspects to be considered depending on the library’s remit, objectives, services provided, user base and existing collections.

In some instances, the spaces assigned to the various input variables will accord with applicable norms and standards, e.g. a specific space allocation for office space or library staff use. Additional prerequisites, such as people circulation areas and space for technical facilities, can be added to the space requirements as a percentage of other uses.

An initial comparison can then be made of the space required with the space available in the facility being considered, revealing the possibilities for re-use which the building under consideration offers. Knowledge gained from an analysis of the existing physical structure and building-related specifications are also included in the consideration. For example, in this example, it had been determined that the hall of the former heat and power plant could be used as an open library space. The potential design of additional levels with air space was also included in the area balance in this step to facilitate potential later consideration of the space as a continuum.

Room Schedule and Diagram of Functions

The next planning step is to prepare the room schedule and space allocation plan. Rooms, groups of rooms, areas or clusters are listed with their functionality and different types of use. The relationships of areas regarding activity and potential traffic routes and access possibilities can be highlighted in the arrangement of areas within the plan. The network of links between areas on the diagram of functions reveals details of direct and indirect connections, highlights relationships between the functional areas and outlines access and security requirements.

Diagram functions
Diagram of functions

The diagram of functions reveals in a simple way relationships between the different areas. There may also be formal institutional criteria to be observed for particulate types of use, such as human resources and office space. Access authorization criteria should also be indicated, taking into account the flow and traffic of people and collections. Where are the entrances to be positioned? Which areas are open to the public? Which are open to the public with access control? And which areas are closed to the public?

Layout, Clusters and Floor Plans

The next stage involves examining how the requirements of the space allocation plan can be mapped into the building being considered for conversion. This is where the complexity of the task comes to light and issues to be anticipated in the later design stage are identified. As already indicated, it makes sense to form clusters of space requirements at this stage and to allocate space generously rather than to define areas narrowly which might later need substantial change. Clusters are formed based on substantive connections between functions or activities and are placed in relation to the access conditions known at that point. As already noted, they include a proportionate amount of space for ancillary purposes, technical facilities and people circulation.

Ground floor plan
Grand floor plan of the existing building with coloured areas indicating possible clusters for potential future use

An initial comparison of the total amount of existing space and the projected areas required reveals the available possibilities. In the next step, the various areas – or clusters in this case – are assigned to the existing floor space true to scale. In addition to the functions and the network of relationships and access routes, the position and context of the building, potential future developments, the three-dimensional cubature and current spatial qualities influence the distribution of clusters and areas within the existing building. A jigsaw puzzle of “coloured” areas is produced, as well as alternative distributions of space to be considered with regard to their advantages and disadvantages. It is recommended that alternatives are drawn up in a parallel process, so that they can be examined if necessary at later stages in  the design phase.

Yes – It Will Fit!

By following the process outlined, it has become clear in the case of the Heat and Power Plant at the Leibniz Universität Hannover (LUH), how future use of the building as a library might be undertaken. The space continuum of the plant with a suspended level and the smaller structured areas offer huge potential for various working atmospheres and inspirational spaces for library use. It is hoped that some elements of the plant might be retained to indicate the former use of the building. In addition, combining office space previously located in separate areas within the Library, the Archives, and Research and Development on floors above each other, has the potential for creating a centralised and harmonised support structure with the capacity to operate effectively and efficiently to achieve organizational goals.

Author details

Anette Franzkowiak has been Building Consultant at the Technische Informationsbibliothek (TIB) since 2001 and responsible for various building projects for the five sites of the TIB. Anette first studied librarianship and worked as a librarian for several years. She then studied architecture and undertook work as an architect on several projects as well as working freelance. She is a member of the Architektenkammer Niedersachsen and was a  lecturer in library architecture at the Hochschule Hannover (University of Applied Sciences and Arts). Anette is a member of the Standing Committee of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section.

Acknowledgements: Photographs taken by Anette Franzkowiak.


Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

by Inger Edebro Sikström


Being a member of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section’s Standing Committee is very rewarding. One cannot stop being amazed by the wide diversity of the group with members from so many different countries – Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Uganda, U.S.A. and Sweden. The group dynamics generated by the mix is hard to beat.

The opportunity to meet colleagues from all over the world has been very inspiring for me in my work as a library director in Sweden. As Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.

What follows is an attempt to summarize some memories and reflections from my five years as a member of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee. At the same time, I would like to say thank you to each member of the Standing Committee for being a “giant” for me.

Green and Sustainable Buildings – and Organizations

The pre-conference satellite meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2011 was my first encounter with IFLA’s Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee. The meeting’s theme was: The effect of new technologies on library design: building the 21st century library. Excellent papers on many topics were supplemented by visits to local libraries.

We visited the Hamilton Mill Branch of the Gwinnett Public Library. This library had been awarded prizes for sustainable design that dramatically contributed to decreased use of electricity and water, as well as reductions in other operating costs. The library demonstrated very systematically and pedagogically its environmental thinking through displays and detailed explanations.

Self-service as a Catalyst for Change

At Library Buildings and Equipment Section meetings and conferences, we have heard how focusing on self-service in design contributes to improving the working environment and decreasing operational costs. A lesson learned is that a major element in cutting ongoing costs is to plan for self-service very early in the building process.

While not many public libraries need large robot storage and retrieval systems, I was inspired by hearing how the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City used  self-service in its design and as a catalyst for change in the library’s staffing positions and working methods.

Iconic Library Buildings

While IFLA Section Standing Committees meet annually during the IFLA Conference itself, most Sections also hold mid-term meetings in various locations. The Library Buildings and Equipment Section mid-term meeting in 2012 was held in Germany. At last I obtained the opportunity to see the Philological Library at the Freie Universität Berlin designed by Norman Foster . The library building has a fabulous organic form that is replicated in the design of the circulation desks.

A History to Value and Protect

Libraries have at their core strong democratic values based on everyone’s right to seek and receive information. A contrast to the futuristic Norman Foster architecture at the Freie Universität Berlin was the Library at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg founded in 1696. Think of the impact it has had for so many people during the more than 300 years of its existence – a history to value and protect. All libraries have past achievements to preserve as well as new directions to take.

Tried and Tested Functions in New Contexts

Not far from Halle is Dessau, the centre of the Bauhaus movement in 1925, after its beginnings in Weimar through the work of Walter Gropius in 1919. The Bauhaus movement took tried and tested functions and introduced them in new contexts and venues.

Everything is consistent and well thought-out at the Walter Gropius Bauhaus School. One example is the use of strong colours to facilitate orientation in the building. The colours coincidentally are almost the same as the traditional bright colours of blue, red, green and yellow which characterise the Sami people of Northern Europe.

As early as 1925, Gropius designed a unique typeface for all Bauhaus communication. Sune Norgren did the same in 1997 when commissioned to create the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in a converted mill in Gateshead, England.  The use of the letter “B” for Baltic in the Centre’s signage is clever and catchy. It reinforces the message and marks the brand for the Centre.

New Approaches to Learning and Libraries

In 2012, the Standing Committee was invited to take part in a seminar: Designing the Future Library, hosted by the Helsinki University Library, the National Library and the Helsinki City Library. We learned about new concepts for learning and a service design that supports interaction based on diversity and flexibility. Dialogue with customers and stakeholders was emerging as central to an understanding of needs and the basis for determining appropriate design responses.

The IFLA World Library and Information Congress was held in Singapore in 2013 and new insights were acquired.  A visit to the Library in Chinatown found that the inhabitants of Chinatown had created its own vision for the library with three themes: hope, heart and home. The library@chinatown has many audiences. A significant group is older residents, many of whom are grandparents who visit the library while waiting for their grandchildren to finish school for the day. The old and the young frequently do homework in the library subsequently.

Most Problems can be Solved

Anyone who has planned a new library building knows that some things do not always go according to plan. I found the words on a wall painting in the Chicago Public Library very comforting. They were first spoken in the inaugural address of Mayor Harold Washington in 1983.

Most of our problems can be solved. Some of them will take brains, some of them will take patience. And some of them will have to be wrestled with like an alligator in a swamp

Wall plaque in Chicago Public Library

I have learned so much from my membership of the Standing Committee of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section. My colleagues have shared their ideas with me. I have seen buildings from all over the world. I have been able to apply new approaches to my own professional practice. I have stood on the shoulders of giants.

Author details

Inger Edebro Sikström has worked in school and public libraries in Sweden. She was Director of Public Libraries in Umeå, Sweden from 1996 until her retirement. Under her leadership, the libraries received many awards.  These include the Swedish Library of Talking Books and Braille’s Amy Prize in 2010, a United Nations Public Service Award in 2008, a European Public Sector Award in 2007 and the Union of Baltic Cities Cultural Prize in 2007. Inger has been Vice-President of the Swedish Library Association from 2007-2012 and a member of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Standing Committee from 2011-1017. Inger is now retired and working with her father’s collection of photographs from her hometown. Together with her husband, Inger is documenting the town’s economic and social development after the inauguration in 1891 of the railroad connecting the capital city Stockholm with north Sweden. Inger can be contacted at

Acknowledgements: Photographs by Inger Edebro Sikstrom.