How to Create a More Flexible Seating Environment

How to Create a More Flexible Seating Environment | Creating a diverse array of flexible seating options in our libraries improves student learning. Here's some advice on how to get started.

I recently had two very different airport experiences that got me thinking about the impact of flexible seating in learning environments. I was flying back home after speaking to a group of librarians in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The Edmonton International Airport had low seating, comfy seating, traditional seating, and cafe spaces. There were areas that were designed to promote conversation and areas for solo travelers to get work done. There were seats with tables if I wanted to eat some food or drink some coffee while getting work done. All of the international gates were grouped around a “lounge” where you could comfortably wait for your flight.

By contrast, my gate at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, TX, had tightly packed traditional airport seating. There was no place for passengers to put their carry-on luggage except in the aisles, making it really hard to navigate. Few of the chairs had tables or cup holders attached. The nearby sections of the airport (it’s huge, so there might be better seating elsewhere) only had stores, restaurants, or massage chairs that you had to pay for. I finally found a tiny bit of floor space along a wall to sit comfortably, but it felt like I wasn’t really allowed to sit there.

Now imagine how your students feel when they walk into your learning space. Are there comfortable seating options available? Is there a good variety to support both groups and individuals? Or are all the chairs uncomfortable and crammed tightly together?

A variety of seating options at Edmonton International Airport

A variety of seating options at Edmonton International Airport

How to Create a More Flexible Seating Environment in Your Library

Flexible seating means offering a variety of styles and options for places to sit. Creating an environment with many different options for seating means that students can self-select what will work best for them and their current task at hand.

Things to Consider

There are many different factors to consider when thinking about flexible seating options in your library. In the book Get Active: Reimagining Learning Spaces for Student Success, the authors recommend looking at the factors of comfort, ergonomics, flexibility, mobility, and durability when selecting furniture. You also want to consider the different functions of your library space. Do you support full classes? Do they all have to have the same type of chair? Are there small groups coming in to study? Individual students coming to read quietly? Is there an active, vibrant makerspace? All of these play a role in deciding what types of chairs to have.

Strathcona High School in Edmonton has tons of great seating options for students

Strathcona High School in Edmonton, AB, Canada has tons of great seating options for students

Types of Flexible Seating

There’s so much out there besides the regular old classroom chair. Consider these types of flexible seating options for your library:

  • Soft, comfortable – Think upholstered chairs, comfy dining booths, bean bags, etc.
  • High – Cafe height stools. These are great for more active areas.
  • Dynamic – Seating that can move or allow for fidgeting. Hokki stools and rocking chairs are great in this realm.
  • Traditional – Don’t leave out traditional classroom chairs. Some students still prefer these. Just make sure that the options you have are ergonomic.
  • The floor  – Many students of all ages love to sit on the floor. Leave some space open in your library to support this. Consider things like floor pillows and floor “chairs” that can provide back support and cushion for your floor sitters.
  • Task chairs – These are especially good for computer and work areas. Look for ones that are height-adjustable and that can swivel. Whether or not you want castors depends on your space and preferences – be prepared for some “chair races” across the library if you choose to have them.
DIY "Book Boat" at Keheewin Elementary in Edmonton, AB, Canada

DIY “Book Boat” at Keheewin Elementary in Edmonton, AB, Canada

Budget-Friendly and DIY Options

If you have a sizable budget, there’s some absolutely amazing edu-furniture out there. However, most school librarians have little to no money to work with. There are definitely still options out there.

Small budget options:

  • Scholastic Bookfair – I’ve gotten rugs and comfortable chairs with my bookfair money before.
  • IKEA – Lots of beautifully designed and cheap furniture. Not so great on the durability end. Be aware of your district’s rules regarding fire safety and furniture
  • Garage sales – These can be hit or miss, but you can find amazing deals. See above about fire safety.
  • District furniture warehouse – Some school districts have warehouses where they store unwanted furniture. These can be a potential goldmine.

DIY options:

  • Milkcrate + cushion – I’ve seen these all over Pinterest.
  • Floor pillows – Even if you just have basic sewing skills, floor pillows are easy to create.
  • Book Boat– Great for elementary. Get an oversized plastic tub, get some pillows and add a cute sign (see above image).

What types of flexible seating do you have in your library?  Which ones do your students like the best?

Reimagining Library SpacesInterested in reading more about changing up your library space?  Pre-order my upcoming book – Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget – it’s set to come out in October.

Author: Diana Rendina

Diana Rendina, MLIS, is a middle school media specialist/teacher librarian at Stewart Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL. She is the creator of the blog RenovatedLearning.com & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and learning space design and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana is currently co-authoring a book for ABC-CLIO titled Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace.



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