Space and environment

Library spaces

The National Library of New Zealand states that ‘a school library that is designed as an important, exciting and welcoming place, will, when appropriately staffed and resourced, impact positively on teaching and learning in the school.’
According to the School libraries in South Australia 2019 census, an effective contemporary school library should be a facility that provides:

  • A safe supportive and nurturing setting and network environment
  • A virtual learning area available to everyone from any place and from any device
  • Combination of technology, teaching and learning resources/equipment
  • Access to the physical space before, during and after school hours
  • Resources based on the learning needs of all students
  • Resources to build on state and national standards
  • Resourses that supplement the school curriculum

Making changes

There is often a lot you can do to make the library more welcoming and attractive, regardless of your budget. A good starting point is to look at your library with fresh eyes. Will your students find it inspiring, comfortable and reader-friendly?

It is important to collaborate with the school community before making changes. Ask teachers and students for ideas and suggestions.
Options include:

  • Purchase or renew bright rugs, floor cushions and beanbags to encourage students to relax and read in comfort.
  • Maximise natural light by removing or replacing window coverings.
  • Refresh signage. Reduce the amount of signs, especially those telling students what they can’t do in the library.
  • Renew furniture with movable items that allow flexibility and can be cleaned easily.
  • Ensure chairs and tables are comfortable for students of varying sizes and are fit for purpose. Pay special attention to areas where PCs and printers are located.
  • Rearrange the space to create comfortable and inviting areas for classes and independent readers.
  • Repaint walls. Ask local artists if they will donate their time and talents to create murals or art works.
  • Ensure there is good Wi-Fi coverage and areas for students to use laptops and other devices.
  • Increase your face-out shelving and displays to make browsing easier.
  • Ensure the temperature of the space is inviting in winter and summer.
  • Weed and rearrange collections so it is easier to locate attractive and popular items.

Don’t forget that the single most important factor in creating a welcoming library is you! Warm and encouraging library staff will create an inviting atmosphere and have a positive impact on learning outcomes and reading engagement. Refer to Reader Friendly Environments from the National Library of New Zealand for further information.

Shelving and collections

The way you set out and organise collections and shelving units can have a large impact on reading engagement. Some things to consider are:

  • Are collections logically arranged and within easy reach of the students who need to use them?
  • Is the shelving stable, safe and in good condition?
  • Can students easily browse items on shelves or units? Weed areas that are tightly packed. Can students reach items on every shelf or do you need lower units?
  • Is the shelving appropriate for the items? Some readers are better suited to boxes. Face-out shelving and box units are ideal for picture books.
  • Free-standing shelving units set on lockable casters give flexibility.
  • Face-out shelving and displays make it easier for students to locate attractive and new items.
  • Do all the shelving units contribute to the look and feel of the library, or does their colour and condition have a negative impact? Consider new shelf bay ends to improve the look and display options.
  • Are the shelves full of old and shabby items? Weed regularly to make the collections attractive to students.
  • Arranging part or all of the fiction collection by genre rather than by author makes browsing easier. This change may require more shelving space or a big weed first.
  • Consider the traffic flow implications of where you place shelving units and furniture. Can students easily navigate the entire library? Will they be enticed to browse displays and collections?

Further reading


Before you start making small or large changes, stop and consider:

  • What do you want your library spaces to do?
  • What types of spaces and facilities do you need now? Will this change in the future? If so, can you include some future-proofing strategies?
  • Have you consulted widely amongst your school community? Be prepared to compromise aspects of your wish list to ensure all sections of the school feel a sense of ownership.

Tips from Tasmanian school library staff

  • Plan for the future.
  • Visit as many libraries as you can and read widely to gather tips and ideas.
  • Micromanage the plans rather than leaving the planning to an architect.
  • Think flexible.
  • Do a big weed before making changes.
  • Purchase shelving units with lockable casters.
  • Flooring should go under (not up to) everything.
  • Include plenty of power and network ports.
  • Think about the height of the circulation desk – you need to be able to see small students and people in wheelchairs.
  • Rethink your returns area – If you include a returns drop box make sure it has a sprung base.
  • Wide doors makes access easier for trolleys and wheelchairs.
  • In the staff area you need lots of storage, a high and wide bench or table for processing and mending items.
  • Designate space for each collection. Don’t forget to allocate space and specialised shelving for kits, class sets and possibly teacher reference collections.
  • Consider a range of furniture options, not just library suppliers.
  • Think about shelving heights – if shelves are too tall for staff they are too tall for primary school students.
  • Visibility for supervision purposes is important – try not to create ‘blind spots’.
  • Think about carpet tiles vs carpet. Carpet with underlay can be warmer, more comfortable and quieter.
  • Create areas where students can sit and think eg beanbags and rugs.
  • Maximise natural light and supplement with good lighting.

Further information


School Library Guidelines – home page

Give feedback about the School Library Guidelines

Page updated 03/08/2023

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