Sunday, January 13, 2013

What is the Proper Size for a Library?

A librarian in Wyoming asked her colleagues on lm_net, a list serv for school librarians, about the size of a new library for school’s remodeling project. The current building (according to their web site) was built between 1924 and 1941 and the school itself claims to be more than 100 years old. Any building that old should have many remodeling jobs done between 1941 and today. The library is open before and after school.

The administration says that the purpose of the library is changing and the school no longer needs the current sized library. They wanted a library 1/3 of the current size.

It is impossible to answer this question without knowing what the situation of the school is. I will attempt to raise some of the questions that need to be addressed before anyone can give an informed opinion.

The first questions are: What is the school and library’s mission statement? How does the library and its programming fit into the curriculum, school day, and post-school day? According to their web site the mission of the school is: “committed to preparing responsible and life-long learners who value themselves, contribute to their society, and succeed in a changing world. ” [fn 1]

Since this questioner’s library has no published mission statement, below is a generic one that I created, based on the published mission statements from other schools.
The mission of the High School Library -Media Center is: 1) Teach students to be effective users of information from all sources; 2) Prepare students for the next step in their educational careers; and 3) Prepare students to be life-long learners. To accomplish this mission the library and it staff will:

 •  Provide a timely collection that supports the curriculum and recreational reading needs of students and faculty. The collection will include periodicals, print and electronic books and non-print materials.

 •  Provide instruction in information literacy that will teach students how to find and evaluate information

 •  Provide physical and electronic tools to access resources and materials in the library, in other libraries, and library databases.

 •  Stimulate interest in reading, knowledge and the quest for information and ideas

 •  Promote the use of the library by students and faculty through programs, publicity and other outreach activities

 • Partner with teachers to develop educational strategies that meet the information needs of students and to augment teaching

• Provide an atmosphere that contains a welcoming physical space with current technology resources for a variety of learning styles and activities
The second set of questions revolves on the space needs of the library. How many students are in the school and how many can be expected in the library at any given time period? Does the library act as a computer lab? Does the school have a computer lab outside of the library where students can do their homework and access library resources? Does the library have study or meeting rooms? Does the library have a faculty work room? Does the school offer wi-fi for students to do their work from other places in the building or campus?

If the school’s use of space will move some of these tasks to other rooms, then the library will need less space after remodeling. If the library will take on new roles, more space will be needed. Here are two articles that deal with the questions of space design in greater detail that I can in this column, “Space Matters: Designing a High School Library for Learning” by Bryce Nelson and Lorne McConachie. In Educational Facility Planner Volume 44:1 (2010). and “Divine Design: How to create the 21st-century school library of your dreams” by Margaret Sullivan. In School Library Journal April 1, 2011

Basically some of the space considerations include: The space must be flexible. Furniture and fixtures must be able to be moved to accommodate variable sized groups, purposes and needs. Space is needed for reading, writing, collaborating and creating video and audio. The library space should support the ideas of collaborative education. That means the librarian is a partner and collaborator with faculty, students, and staff.

The library is not a warehouse for books and materials. Materials need to be merchandised, displayed and promoted. Include e-books and digital devices in your space planning.

Insist on an electronic infrastructure that can grow or mutate to changing needs. Nothing looks like lack of planning more than unsightly and unsafe wires. Make sure to work with the IT and physical plant departments to be sure the library has the ability to meet today’s power and data needs and those that we can’t even image will exist in 5, 10 or 20 years.

The space should be inviting, inspiring, and attractive, but must be functional and livable over beauty. [fn 2] You and the library users have to work in the library everyday. Make sure the lighting, walls, windows, furniture, computers, etc. are proper for their designed purpose and are not just for show. Imagine the library is your school’s place for research, creativity, and work where “information meals” are assembled. The library needs a variety of seating and spaces to meet the student, faculty and staff needs. The library needs quiet spaces, places for movement, conversation, and group work. The library should be grand and not resemble any classroom in your school or your imagination. This will give the message that the library and its programs are important parts of the school.

Don’t forget the school hallways and outdoor areas. Use them as extensions of the learning space.
I can’t give exact advice for the number of square feet or seating a library needs because each library needs to figure that out. There should be enough room for at least one class to be meeting with a librarian and/or teacher while others in the library can do what they need to do. Seating for between 10% and 25% of the student body should be a goal of the space planning. Adequate work areas are needed for the processing of materials and administrative purposes.

The third set of questions concern the collection development policies. Does the library have a written current well defined policy? What is the current size of the physical collection? Is the collection current? How many books need replacement because they are worn, outdated or no longer fit the curriculum? What is the circulation? How much space needs to be devoted to the circulation and reference areas? Does the library need a special collections or restricted circulation room or area? Will the physical collections grow or be restricted to one item in; one item out?

Electronic books are on the radar of everyone. Some people say electronic books will replace print books. They are mistaken. Many students will embrace e-books while many will refuse to read them. The library needs to offer choices to accommodate the differing needs of the students and tasks. Electronic books are great when it comes to instant access to millions of books, that the library could never afford to house and circulate. E-readers weigh less than a paperback book and can be read anywhere. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, “REVIEW --- Don't Burn Your Books -- Print Is Here to Stay --- The e-book had its moment, but sales are slowing,” Nicholas Carr [fn 3] reports that while electronic books are gaining is sales, people still read physical books. The possibility of choice is what is important. The article gives statistics on the sales of electronic books. It reports that at least 89% of active readers had read a print book in the last year. The growth of e-books sales has slowed. The results of e-book sales are skewed toward fiction and recreational reading. Those who buy e-readers and tablets want to be able to take the devices wherever they go for pleasure reading. The booksellers don’t report on e-books sold for research or other scholarly purposes. For example my library has about 3500 electronic medical books. We could not afford the space to keep a collection of that size. Electronic books available at all times. If a library user wants a printed copy, they can order it for a reasonable cost of printing.

We also can’t afford the space costs for the periodical collection. Electronic databases have taken the place of shelves full of back issues. Does the library office access to databases?
Electronic books have some amazing features, but they will always be a part of the collection, not THE collection. Several turn-offs (pun intended) for electronic books are: they require a device to read them. If the device is not available or loses power, the book can’t be read. Electronic books generally can’t be loaned, borrowed, or sold when you are done. (I know libraries lend electronic books, but I talking about consumer bought e-books.) When I have searched a library catalog for a recreational electronic book or file, the search seems to take a lot longer than browsing the physical shelves. On the other hand, I have about 100 public domain books in the Google account. I can read them or not read them without the need to pay for space. Some of these electronic books duplicate print books on my shelf.

Conclusion: There is no right size for a school library that can be found in an article. The right size depends on an analysis of the current situation, future needs of the library, and the future of the school. The interested parties need a self study to figure out the best course of action, but in the end the library needs to be a grand, livable space that will accomplish its mission, the mission of school, and the mission of education in our society.

1. I see a problem with this statement. It uses a gerund rather that an action verb. A better version would be: To prepare responsible life-long learners, who value themselves, contribute to society, and succeed in a changing world.” However, even the revised version is too vague to me meaningful. A mission statement should form a basis for creating other policies. Sample mission statements and other resources for school libraries may be found at the website “Resources for School Librarians.”:

2. Art work may be included to enhance the beauty of the library. There should be a distinction between art for the sake of beauty and art interfering with functionality of the space and furnishings.

3. Carr, Nicholas. "REVIEW --- Don't Burn Your Books -- Print is here to Stay --- the e-Book had its Moment, but Sales are Slowing; Readers Still Want to Turn those Crisp, Bound Pages." Wall Street Journal: C.2.

Comments received

Jan. 14, 2013

I think this is a subject that we should discuss.  I work currently at a middle school in Southern California, after 18 years at an elementary school in the same district.

In 2004, the California School Library Association came out with a comprehensive guide to what exemplary school libraries should look like, K-12. There is a large section devoted to what the library space should contain, and how large it should be. It is titled "Standards and Guidelines for Strong School Libraries".  I believe it is still in print.  Contact for a copy.

Here in California, the state recommends 28 books per student - with my school of 1134, I should have at least 31,700 titles - I have 10,300, and at least 60% are over 15 years old. (So I have just started a massive weeding project.) I could no more get 32,000 titles in this space than I could fly to the moon!

Of course, this is California and there is no money for materials, so I am writing grants which will (hopefully) garner $35,000 for next year. However, just knowing the recommended number of books per student would give the school a basic idea of how many line feet of shelving would be required, and that in turn would give the planners an idea of the space requirements just for books - I bet if the librarian found those figures, she'd have an argument against cutting her space to 1/3 of its current size!
Candace Bratmon
Toll Middle School
Glendale, Ca 91202

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