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.

The (Nearly) Perfect Training Room

by Klaus U. Werner

Training Rooms in Libraries

Library space, where librarians teach information literacy, should not look like an old-fashioned classroom or a computerized training room which might be found in a computer centre. In a traditional information technology training room or a computer laboratory.  The furniture and its arrangement convey messages to occupants: don’t move, don’t discuss, don’t feel comfortable! Tables are usually placed in rows. There are rarely windows that allow views of the outside world. The computers and large monitors dominate, there might be some digitized displays – but there is limited space for the learners. The students using the facility will become tired very quickly. The following images of traditional training rooms typify the stereotyped and stultifying atmosphere which develops, even if the colours are bright.


The Challenge

The challenge in designing a perfect training room is to develop an environment for teaching in the library that is more than just user-friendly. The space must be inspiring and encourage learning. The space must promote information and media literacy. The environment must enhance the course content and delivery and contribute strongly to the success of the training being conducted. Space for training and instruction in libraries must provide a motivating and stimulating setting suitable for all users: for children in school libraries, for young people in universities and for adults of all ages in public libraries.

What to do?

Teaching spaces within the library should be quite different from ordinary classrooms or computer training centres. The design of library teaching spaces and the equipment provided should support individual learning strategies as well as collaborative learning. There is a wide range of students’ individual learning styles and flexibility of furniture to create different settings is vital. What requirements must be met in the interior design off rooms designated for teaching? Tables equipped with computers, chairs and a projector hung from the ceiling do not suffice. Attention must be given to lighting, acoustical treatment of doors and ceilings and control of temperature and humidity. The furniture must be flexible. Mobility is a priority. Height-adjustable chairs on a rolling base combined with modular desks on casters are essential and can be achieved on a low budget. Other points to note relate to light and perspective. Is there natural light in the room? Is it possible to look outside the windows? Is there sufficient fresh air?

Heavy chairs and tables are not appropriate. The worst option would be permanent, fixed furniture. The ideal result is a Starbucks feeling with a mixture of a variety of styles and designs of chairs. Students working in groups learn collaboratively and space designed for teaching and learning in groups can be used for formal training and teaching sessions as well as for informal group learning.

University Library Colombo (Sri Lanka)

Other Strategies

Flexibility applies not only to furniture but also to hardware emphasizing the use of notebook and tablet computers rather than fixed large desktops. Alternatively, users can bring their own devices.

Glass walls and doors provide transparency allowing users passing by to see what is going on inside. And that can motivate them to join a tutorial or a class. Nowadays projectors are so bright and their operation so well-developed that dimming the light in the room is no longer necessary.

The Look and Feel

Another approach is to provide a living room atmosphere: The balance of teaching, learning and relaxing characterizes the favourite preferred style of learning and a feel-good learning atmosphere for the younger generation. The addition of a coffee machine or a water dispenser provides the opportunity to have a break or to take coffee during long, intensive training sessions – why not?

The library should be “cool” and resemble a Starbucks cafe or an Apple store. While being “cool” might not be an appropriate or realistic goal for libraries in every country or in every culture, the idea is to develop a vision of successful communication through library space and services which suits young adults – but without becoming a slave to fads or trends.

University of Tokyo Main Library (Japan)

Final Words

To create effective training rooms in libraries, the most important considerations are:

  • Flexible space to suit teaching and formal and informal learning for both individuals and groups
  • A relaxing space facilitating communication between the teacher and the learners, and the learners with each other
  • “Cool” design
  • An inspiring and motivating atmosphere
  • Use of mobile devices like notebooks and tablets instead of inflexible computer equipment
  • Optimisation of natural light, but avoiding glare

The ultimate aim is to achieve a balance of teaching, learning and relaxing.

Further Reading

Altenhöner, Reinhard (2011). Learning and working environments – what students expect; results of a Student Design Contest. Satellite Conference of the World Library and Information Congress: 77th IFLA General Conference and Assembly / Library Building and Equipment Section, Atlanta, USA, 10./11.8.2011.

Gwyer, R., Stubbings, R. & Walton, G. (Eds.) (2012). The road to information literacy. Librarians as facilitators of learning. Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter.

Werner, K. U. (2012). Räumliche und gestalterische Anforderungen an Bibliotheken als Lehr- und Lernort zur Förderung von Informationskompetenz. In: Sühl-Strohmenger, W. & Straub, M. (Eds.), Handbuch Informationskompetenz (p. 451-466). Berlin: de Gruyter.

Author details

Klaus Ulrich Werner is a Director of the Library and Head of the Philological Library at the Freie Universität Berlin. He has degrees in library and information science and a doctorate from the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. He has undertaken various roles within the libraries at the Freie Universität and was project manager for the Philologische Bibliothek also known as the Berlin Brain designed by Lord Norman Foster and opened in 2005. He is a member of the Commission for Library and Archive Building Guidelines of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), a member of the Board of Speakers of the German Cultural Council and member of the Standing Committee of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section. He lectures at the Institute of Library and Information Science at the Humboldt-Universität Berlin and has published books and articles on library building and equipment. He provides consulting services on library buildings and change management.

The Critical Role of Outdoor Spaces for the 21st Century Library

by Traci Engel Lesneski

Outdoor Space and the Library

Libraries serve as critical community partners. They evaluate current and future needs and proactively through service provision fill gaps in the community fabric. They sometimes fail to capitalise on a key asset in their toolkit: the outdoors. Library buildings have historically made use of their surroundings to underscore the significance of the building, focus on the attributes of the location and enhance the “place”, beautifying the environment. Libraries of all types and size and in all climates and locations can use their outdoor spaces to enrich the way they fulfill their missions and to serve their communities more effectively. By focusing on the outdoors and virtually turning the library inside out, libraries can increase their available real estate and provide a wide range of benefits to users.

Southwest Regional Library, Louisville, Kentucky, USA, features curving paths and an infiltration basin bridge, providing opportunities for visitors to understand the surrounding environment.

Encouraging Healthy Lifestyles

Design of libraries can encourage healthy living both inside the library and outdoors. Sit-to-stand worktables are prevalent in staff workrooms and becoming more common in public areas. For lengthy library visits, these types of workstations can help get the blood flowing and prevent back and neck issues. Libraries can promote the use of stairs instead of elevators by making stairs easy to find, more convenient to use and even fun. Unique features such as literary quotes on stair risers, and treads that play music when stepped on, can motivate users of all ages groups to use the stairs.

Ensuring a sound relationship between inside the building and the outdoors has many health benefits. For example, studies have shown that a visual connection to the outdoors increases focus and productivity for library users and provides a sense of well-being. Spaces with access to natural light have rejuvenating benefits for both library users and staff. Providing safe, attractive exterior spaces for staff and visitors extends the focus on wellness.

Libraries in urban locations can ensure their inclusion in the routes of walking tours for tourists and locals, thereby encouraging walking by the community and marketing of their services.  Programming for adults and children can feature outdoor activities linked to community exercise classes. Signs and marketing outreach can highlight the benefits of being active. Some libraries offer secure, covered parking for bicycles and by this means promote their use.

Locations with large areas of green space can host community gardens and support the consumption of nutritious, non-processed local produce.  Well-lit walking paths and convenient connections to surrounding parks and pathways are popular amenities for many libraries. Weather and climate need not be barriers to using outdoor paths. Covered pathways in hot or wet climates facilitate use particularly with inclement weather. The sharing economy has increased borrowing of various items. In cold climates, why not include snowshoe or ski rentals at the library to encourage participation in outdoor activities? The possibilities are limitless.

The xeriscape-designed garden outside the Sahara West library and Fine Arts Museum, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, invites visitors to enjoy strolling the library’s location before entering the building.

Saving the Planet

Human health is inextricably linked to care of the planet Earth. The library is a highly visible community entity. It can create within the community an awareness of the need for conservation of the environment and provide details of potential improvements through such activities as composting, water conservation, and ecological best practices. The Ramsey County Roseville Library, Minnesota, USA, has a children’s garden featuring an above-ground cistern that collects rainwater from the building’s roof. A spigot on the cistern gives children access to the water, which they can collect in library-provided buckets to water the plants. When a rain event causes spillover, the water travels in a series of visible streams with displays that explore the operation of the water cycle. Vistas of exterior sustainable features from inside the building also serve to raise awareness of ecological issues. The positioning of the Roseville Library’s rainwater collection system within view of the children’s lounge area allows the library to showcase water conservation activities in all weathers.


Space for Creative Programming

Library programmes include creative and practical activities for users. Students of all ages and disciplines are increasingly called upon to create projects involving hands-on experiences as well as information access and use. Some “making” activities are messy.  Others require considerable space for their execution or natural resources. Some creative approaches incorporate analogue and digital techniques. The growth of the makerspace movement within libraries has brought with it new reasons to be outside. The library can become a hub for creative activities both inside and outside. In some instances, all that is required is the simple dedication of space. Others require access to power. Urban libraries with limited space can put sidewalks, footpaths, balconies, patios or verandas to use. The visible use of external spaces to passers-by encourages further interest in the library and reinforces its role as a relevant and up-to-date community asset.

“Maker” activities spill out onto the sidewalk at the Madison Central Library, Wisconsin, USA.

Respite and Relaxation

Libraries have traditionally been places where people have sought solace, inspiration, rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. Project for Public Spaces (PPS) ( )  is the central hub of a global movement connecting people to ideas, expertise, and partners who share a passion for creating vital places. The project describes great public places as accessible, clean, attractive, safe and comfortable places that support activities, where people of all ages meet each other. If the library offers a variety of outdoor options (shaded, sunny, private and communal) and a strong outdoor Wi-Fi signal, diverse groups will use external seating areas for work, meetings and project work, as well as reading and contemplation.

A reading porch outside the Hennepin County Library in Maple Grove, Minnesota, USA, provides respite and a space for reading and reflection.

Community Fun

Does your library building have a large nondescript exterior wall? The Tulsa City-County Central Library used the wall of a parking garage to create an outdoor screening room in a garden space. Other libraries build patios outside multi-purpose rooms, allowing receptions and meetings to spill outdoors on fine days. Snowman-building competitions or art “make-offs” can bring a community together. The library occupies a unique place in society, and connecting with community members on a purely fun level buttresses the perception of the library as a safe place for all and a significant asset to the community.

Moviegoers enjoy an event in the garden at Tulsa City-County Central Library.

Generating Energy

Outdoor spaces are increasingly being pressed into practical service as society demands extended sustainability from public buildings, involving energy regeneration and some return to the environment.  Technological advances including photovoltaic (PV) panels and wind turbines are becoming more commonplace and creating a greater awareness of the importance of renewable energy sources. Libraries can add an element of fun by outfitting green roofs or outdoor patios with bicycle energy farms to help staff and visitors burn energy (and calories), while creating electricity to power an aspect of the library, such as laptop charging stations.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on Madison Central Library’s green roof.

Feeding Inspiration

Libraries fuel inspiration through a wide variety of resources inside the building and through Internet access. Inspiration for patrons can also come from outside the building. Outdoor spaces can feature public art, offer serendipitous encounters and encourage community interactions. Amenities such as Madison Central Library’s LED wall pique the interest of artists and passersby, promote interaction with the building and create new understandings of what it means to be a central community asset. Public art installations, such as those created by Candy Chang, artist of the wildly successful “Before I Die” project engage the community in many different ways.

Outdoor spaces and activities can be used by libraries as leverage in service delivery as well as the design of the building. An inventory of outdoor assets will lead to new and exciting discoveries about their potential use in service and outreach to the community.


Author details

Traci Engel Lesneski is Principal & Head of Interiors at MSR Design, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Traci has led dozens of library projects across the United States in her 20+ years designing libraries and learning spaces. Her belief that smartly designed buildings improve lives ensures that her library designs are beautiful, functional, and sustainable. Recent examples of her work include the award winning, dramatic re-imagination of the Madison Central Library, Wisconsin, and transformation of Tulsa City County  Library’s  Central  Library, Oklahoma. Traci speaks regularly at library conferences and she is the author of numerous articles and papers about library design. Traci is currently chair of the ALA LLAMA/BES Architecture for Public Libraries Committee and Secretary of the IFLA Library Buildings and Equipment Section Standing Committee.

(An earlier version of this blog was originally published for Demco Interiors)