How to Identify and Reframe Design Problems in Your Library Space

How to Identify and Reframe DESIGN PROBLEMS in your library space | When looking at our library spaces, we can often intuitively tell when something is wrong. By identifying these problems and reframing them in a way that focuses on their effects on students, we can advocate for change.

Figuring out the Design Problems in Your Space

Many of us are rethinking and redesigning our library spaces. We have visions of flexible, mobile furnishings on wheels, beautiful charging stations, tools to support technology.  And these are all great and wonderful. But if we go to our administration/school board/people who have money to give us and all we do is paint pretty pictures of what our space could be, they may or may not give us money. By identifying the specific design problems in our space and how they impact student learning, we are much more likely to secure that funding that we need. Here’s some common design problems we often face in school libraries and some ideas on how to reframe them.

Setups for large meetings use up valuable time

Setups for large meetings use up valuable time

Problem: The Library is the host of meetings, and setup takes a long time

This is a common issue for many school libraries. If your school doesn’t have an auditorium or multipurpose room, the library is often the place where meetings are located.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing.  If it’s meetings afterschool that are getting teachers into your library and making collaborations possible, it’s good. If it’s meetings in the middle of the day that are closing the library or if you’re having a to spend a good chuck of time setting things up, it’s bad.

Reframe: Meeting setups take away time for planning instruction

Instead of complaining about how long it takes you to set up the furniture for meetings, reframe the problem.  Focus on how you need time to plan instruction, collaborations and programs, and how having to spend an hour every week rearranging your tables is digging into that time. Maybe your administration will find a different place to hold meetings. Or maybe they’ll support you with some office staff. Or maybe they’ll start considering more flexible furniture that lets you quickly and easily prepare for meetings.

Access to books are often blocked during bookfairs

Access to books are often blocked during bookfairs


Problem: Inflexible furnishings block bookselves during events like bookfairs

Bookfairs are often an important fundraiser and community event for school libraries. But unfortunately, with inflexible furnishings and a lack of space, we often end up having to close all or most of the library whenever we host one, which can disenfranchise those students who can’t afford books at the bookfair.

Reframe: Inflexible furnishings prevent student access to learning materials

Reframe this problem and use it to advocate for furnishings or space or support that can make student access to library materials possible during the bookfair. Both serve important purposes. Maybe your administration can help support you in hosting the bookfair in a separate room, or in recruiting PTSA volunteers. Maybe they can help you change up the physical space so that fewer bookshelves are blocked. Even if you can just keep part of your library open during the fair, it will still help to support your readers.

Non-stackable chairs get in the way

Non-stackable chairs get in the way

Problem: Non-stackable chairs are stored in front of shelves during events

I’m not sure who decided that heavy, wooden, non-stackable chairs should be the standard in school libraries, but if I ever met that person, I’d like to give him/her a piece of my mind. When we had chairs like this in my library, we frequently had to block the bookshelves any time an event was happening in the library. They were a pain to move out of the way and it took a lot of time to set things up.

Reframe: Non-stackable chairs create safety hazards for students

Rather than focusing on how much of a pain these types of chairs are, reframe the problem in terms of the safety hazards they create for students. The words “student safety” are like magic words for getting things done in schools. For my school, I noticed that students would climb on top of and underneath the chairs to get to the books they wanted. I used the above image as part of a grant I wrote to replace our library furniture with more flexible options, including lightweight, stacking chairs.  And I got that grant :)

Overly deep shelving

Overly deep shelving

Problem: Overly deep shelving looks bad and causes book to fall behind the shelves

One of the most frustrating design problems in my library when I got there was the fact that ALL of the shelving was picture book deep, even though we were a middle school. The librarian before me had cut up printer boxes and put them behind the fiction books to keep them from falling behind, but the boxes were gross and dusty and books still ended up getting lost back there.

Reframe: Overly deep shelving makes it harder for students to find reading materials

For years, I kept pitching that we needed to replace these shelves, and the response I kept getting was that they had worked for years, so why change it? But when I started digging into checkout statistics and took pictures of lost books fallen behind the shelves, the problem took on a new light. This wasn’t a cosmetic issue – this was making it more difficult for students to find the reading materials they were looking for. It took a lot of advocating, but eventually I got those shelves.

Awkward instruction space

The projector screen covers shelves, and cables are run along the floor.

Problem: Instruction space has an awkward layout

A lack of a good instructional space is one of the design problems that I see frequently in school libraries. My library originally had shelving on EVERY SINGLE WALL and no designated instructional space. There were two pulldown projector screens in odd locations that either went right through our reading nook or covered up bookshelves. There were few outlets on this side of the library, meaning that if I wanted to use a computer and projector, I had to run an extension cable across half the room. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly encouraging instruction and collaboration.

Reframe: Instruction space is difficult to setup, causes safety hazards, and blocks student access to reading materials

While these things frustrated me to no end, I knew that I needed to do more than just complain. So I reframed the problem and focused on how the library was being underutilized as an instructional space since it was so difficult to setup. I looked at the safety hazards caused by having to run extension cords across the room. I talked about how these screens were blocking student access to reading materials. When I was finally able to weed enough books to remove some wall shelves and put up a whiteboard, my administration was more than happy to pay for a short-throw projector. Now our instruction space is always ready and never blocks student access to books.

What are some of the design problems that you are facing in your library space?  How can you reframe them to focus on student impact?

Author: Diana Rendina

Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory, an independent 6-12 school. She was previously the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog & 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 co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace and is the author of Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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2 replies


    I just read this article and thought you to be the answer to my prayers.

    My name is Rosa Mena, a former English teacher in a bilingual Catholic School in San Salvador, El Salvador.

    When I retired from teaching, I asked the school´s Principal to let me implement a nonexisting school library.
    The idea was received with glee and he hired me as the Primary School Librarian.

    I have been working for over three years with an almost non-existing budget, in a limitted space with built-in beautifully designed wooden book cases which cannot be removed or remodeled since the school is developed in a huge family house, with a traditional architectual and furniture style. Therefore, my room which was the former library of the house is llimited to 6 X 4.5 M2 with one wall with two huge windows and one huge marble fireplace and wooden bookcases built in over the other three walls.

    I really need help.
    Please advise me where, who or if you could be that guidance for me.

    Willing to hearing from you, I send my regards.


  2. I think for library space the mobile racking solutions is the most suitable idea…it saves more space and store a lot…

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