The Library space types are areas where bound paper documents, film, or magnetic media are stored. A Library space type may include both open and closed storage systems and moveable shelving systems, and be applicable to file rooms and other dense storage of material in conditioned office environments. Libraries are assumed to be general purpose, and may include display spaces and reading, meeting, and electronic workstations, as defined by the desired level of access to materials being stored.

See also WBDG Libraries.

Nesconset Library in New York

The Nesconset Library in New York was a conversion of a former federal armory into a library and technical services center for the Smithtown Special Library District. The armory's "drill room" was converted into a soaring open plan library space with unobstructed clerestory windows that allow natural light into the interiors. Finishes, millwork, furniture, casework, and lighting created an inviting and fully accessible community environment for library patrons.
Architect: BBS Architects & Engineers

Space Attributes

Internet access, electronic media, computer technology, and other advancements have had a profound effect on the function and design of libraries. As a result, Library space type design must be flexible enough to take into account these types of integrated technologies as well as to properly store, handle, and circulate printed and other media types. No special type of humidity control is assumed in the Library space type since storage of archival materials is not typical.

There are seven broad types of library space:

  1. Collection space

  2. Public electronic workstation space

  3. User seating space

  4. Staff work space

  5. Meeting space

  6. Special use space

  7. Non-assignable space (including mechanical space)

Typical features of library space types include the list of applicable design objectives elements as outlined below. For a complete list and definitions of the design objectives within the context of whole building design, click on the titles below.


Wheel-chair accessible book stacks.

Wheel-chair accessible book stacks.
Photo credit: National Disability Authority

Accessibility should be planned early in the process. Various types of disabilities should be considered including those with visual, learning, mobility, speech, and hearing impairments. Staff should also be educated and informed regarding how to provide an appropriate service or accommodation that might be requested or required.

Physical features to address in the Library space include:

  • Doorway openings at least 32 inches wide and doorway thresholds no higher than 1/2 inch.
  • Aisles kept wide and clear for wheelchair users. Remove or minimize protruding objects for the safety of visually impaired users.
  • Connect levels of the Library via an accessible route of travel, or provide procedures to assist patrons with mobility impairments in retrieving materials from inaccessible locations.
  • Provide ramps and/or elevators as alternatives to stairs. Install elevators with both auditory and visual signals for floors. Elevator controls should be marked in large print and Braille or raised notation. People seated in wheelchairs should be easily able to reach all elevator controls.
  • Wheelchair-accessible restrooms with well-marked signs should be available in or near the library.
  • Make service desks and facilities such as book returns wheelchair accessible.
  • Provide ample high-contrast, large print directional signs throughout the library. Shelf and stack identifiers should be provided in large print and Braille formats. Mark equipment with large print and Braille labels.
  • Provide telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD/TTY).
  • Provide hearing protectors, private study rooms, or study carrels for users who are distracted by noise and movement around them or who need special equipment or support.
  • Provide adaptive technology for computers.


The aesthetic choices for the Library space should relay a particular message about the overall experience users will have. Consider whether the Library will be more formal and traditional or more modern and open. Determine how it will provide connections to the local community, ideals, and traditions, cultural connections, and or nature.

  • Provide natural daylighting where possible but consider the effects of light on collections in the process to reduce damage. Lighting levels should be even. Surfaces should not be too shiny or glossy and keep reflections, shadows, and glare to a minimum.

  • Provide visual contrast and use differences in colors, textures, and patterns to create an engaging experience and differentiate spaces.

Germantown Library, children's area
Germantown Library silo

The Germantown, Maryland Public Library incorporated large expanses of windows an extensive material and color palette to create inviting, light-filled spaces that enhance the visitor experience.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Vierra

Functional / Operational

  • Integrated Technology: Begin the design process with a thorough understanding of the technological requirements of the space, including anticipated future needs.

  • Shelving systems: Depending on the particular needs of a Library space, shelving systems can be integrated into the design of the room or installed as modular and adaptable units.

  • Heavy floor loads: Library stacks and records storage are typically designed for a 150 LB/SF live load.

  • Acoustic and Visual Privacy: Library space types will typically include reading and private work/study areas that require acoustic and visual separation from general circulation and work areas. Program these spaces in relation to public access to shelving for self-service.

  • Special Lighting: Establishing lighting zones at the beginning of the design process. Differentiate between the lighting needs for shelving, circulation, reading, and workrooms. Include energy efficient lighting.

  • Occupancy: Occupancy Group Classification for the Library space type is Assembly Occupancy for libraries of 5,000 SF or greater, and Business Occupancy B2 with sprinklered protected construction, and GSA Acoustical Class C1 for spaces smaller than 5,000 SF and for enclosed offices.

Historic Preservation

Many historic libraries are undergoing modernizations to address today's technology needs and changes in user needs and use patterns. Additionally, systems upgrades are essential in order to meet today's HVAC, energy, lighting, and other sustainability standards or requirements. Great care and consideration must be a part of the planning process and must be coordinated with the requirements of any historic preservation programs that the Library may currently be under, in order to create a design that respects the historic aspects of the Library and embraces the future.

Boston Public Library - Central Library Renovation

Originally constructed in 1895, the Boston Public Library underwent a Central Library Renovation that embraces the concept of a library as a big urban room. It provides immersive and engaging learning experiences for patrons inside as well as pedestrians who pass by. The greatest benefit to patrons is the much more fluid connection between both wings of the library, the original building and the 1972 addition. The design team redefined the library's usefulness by transforming the second wing from a solid stone bunker to an inviting light-filled space that honors the historic landmark building while redefining its use for a new era.
Architect: William Rawn Associates, Architects Inc. Photo: Robert Benson Photography


  • Flexibility: The Library space type is durable and adaptable, and will typically include features such as a raised floor system for the distribution of critical services (power, voice, data, and HVAC) and mobile workstations and storage. The flexible design should also allow the Library space to be used for other functions such as community gatherings, activities, or events.

Secure / Safe


Designing a sustainable Library space should be part of an integrated process that takes into account: the materials, operations, and health and well-being of the users.

  • Take advantage of natural daylighting, through the appropriate placement of windows and skylights, and natural ventilation to lower utility costs. Utilize features such as shading devices to decrease direct solar gain. (For more information, see Energy-Efficient Lighting, Daylighting, and Windows and Glazing.)

  • Provide insulation in roofs and walls in order to reduce energy use and heat gain in the space.

  • Address healthy indoor environmental quality through appropriate airflow and filtering of air, and materials, furnishings, and finishes that do not off-gas.

  • Use durable products in the Library space and plan for products with reduced packaging and recyclability potential to minimize waste.

Jefferson Hall - West Point Library on the West Point Academy campus
Jefferson Hall - West Point Library on the West Point Academy campus

The Jefferson Hall - West Point Library on the West Point Academy campus earned a Bronze rating under the Army SPiRIT program. The library had to complement the context of the other historic natural stone buildings on campus, while also bridging the past and future through a more open, daylight-filled design. The spaces were designed with materials that met requirements for low-VOC content, low embodied energy, recycled content, and geographical proximity to the project site.
Design Architect: Holzman Moss Architecture.

Example Program

The following is a representative building program for the Library space type.


Tenant Occupiable Areas
Qty. SF Each Space Req'd. Sum Actual SF Tenant Usable Factor Tenant USF
Library Facilities       4,496    
    Entry Vestibule 1 80 80      
    Exhibits 1 100 100      
    Check Out 2 80 160      
    Reference Desk 1 80 80      
    Reference Computer Terminals 4 20 80      
    Card Catalog 3 12 36      
    Lounge Seating 10 20 200      
    Table Seating 20 16 320      
    Carrels 10 30 300      
    Research Computer Terminals 8 20 160      
    Microfiche Cabinets 6 12 72      
    Microfiche Readers 2 20 40      
    Periodicals 4 12 48      
    Reference Stacks 10 12 120      
    Collections Stacks 100 12 1,200      
    AV Work Room 1 200 200      
    Audio Lab 1 200 200      
    Audio Visual Media Collection 6 12 72      
    Duplication Center 1 80 80      
    ADP 1 88 88      
    Librarian's Office 1 120 120      
    Librarian's Assistant 2 80 160      
    Work Room 1 200 200      
    Store Room 1 300 300      
    Housekeeping 1 80 80      
    Tenant Suite     4,496 4,496 1.24 5,565
Tenant Usable Areas           5,565

Example Plans

The following diagram is representative of typical tenant plans.

Library space type

Example Construction Criteria

For GSA, the unit costs for library space types are based on the construction quality and design features in the following table . This information is based on GSA's benchmark interpretation and could be different for other owners. Court-related libraries and/or libraries with extensive hardwood finishes are not included in the unit costs and must be treated as a special requirement or Chamber space type.

Relevant Codes and Standards

The following agencies and organizations have developed codes and standards affecting the design of library spaces. Note that the codes and standards are minimum requirements. Architects, engineers, and consultants should consider exceeding the applicable requirements whenever possible:

Additional Resources



Building Types: