Libraries and Interior Design

Our library buildings are usually a collection of different architectural styles, floor plans, and layouts that we inherited over the years. A hodgepodge of spaces that we make work for our needs and the needs of the community. It’s a challenge from a brand perspective to take these different buildings and somehow make them cohesive; which brings up this question. Should our library locations be a consistent visual experience or is the mishmash of spaces part of library brand?

There are different school of thoughts on this. Some believe that like Barnes and Nobel or Target, that when a customer enters one of our libraries they should be familiar with its layout and decor because it is the same from one library location to another. For examples: Teens areas in a specific place, art books in a particular section, same tile used on our floors, same color paint on the walls, same wayfinding signs, same decor.

Then, there are others who feel that the libraries should connect to the system but also the community it resides. For instance, if a branch is in a neighborhood filled with adobe houses, large trees, and vibrant colors, with a population mostly of seniors, the library should be built with these characteristics in mind and infused with the visual components of your library brand.

Finally, you have systems that believe (or allow) their libraries to look like an elementary school room with things made from construction paper and felt.

Where do I stand? I love consistency and think that library locations in your system should have consistent decor, naming conventions, wayfinding signs, and experiences. Your library is one system and interior design, floor plans, materials, events, and programming should be consistent across the board to convey to customers and staff that you are one library system.

I appreciate customer-based customization and understand its value. For instance, you should have wayfinding signs with multiple languages in neighborhoods where your population speaks several languages. Maybe your kid’s area should be larger in some communities than others because the neighborhood is full of families. If you have a library near a college or in midtown where bars and restaurants are on every other corner, a lounge with laptop stations that sell beverages (teas, coffee, smoothies) may be more fitting than a storytime room. Making decisions like this falls into understanding customers and catering to them, but it should all start from a place of consistency, which is your brand.

Money is needed to make these changes happen. There are only a few ways to get the resources. One, campaigning for it. Connecting with the community and/or with potential corporate sponsorship or partnership to support your financial needs. Two move monies from other parts of your budget and reallocate it for interior design, landscaping, building maintenance and wayfinding signs. I am a firm believer that a larger investment in your spaces will bring people and awareness to your library and its services, which, in turn, will bring the financial support you will need to continue to invest in your library buildings.

Below are links to companies and firms that specialize in furniture. Note, some of them are library-specialists, but you should also look beyond the specialists to help provide the unique and authentically you.