Designing a New Children's Space for the Fort St John Public Library

by Lesley Kok



Community Survey

Library Requirements & Justifications for Planning Decisions


Appendix A

Appendix B

Capping Paper

Library Requirements & Justification for Planning Decisions

This next section will go over the various specifications Dahlgren, an authority in public library planning, has created for public library space needs for design population, collection space, reader seating space, staff work space, meeting room space, special use space, non-assignable space and gross space needed. I am using Anders Dahlgren because he is the leading authority on public library planning. Although his information is slightly dated, no one else has done any research in this area and thus he is the best in his field and is the most appropriate for this project.

Library Staff

The Library employs 10 full time staff and has other part time staff members who share the workstations during evenings and weekends. There is one library director, one adult services/reference librarian, one children’s services librarian, one program coordinator, three full time circulation assistants and three technical services assistants. According to the Ontario library system a large rural library serving over 10,000 people has to employ at least one librarian with an MLIS, one librarian in charge of reference and one librarian in charge of children’s services. It is also recommend that there be 5-17.5 other full time equivalent staff members (Ontario Library)

Collections Growth

It is important to plan for the growth of your community and collection when planning public library space. If you do not plan for growth, then very quickly the user population and the collection will outgrow the space. Architects usually use 20 years as a rule of thumb when planning for growth, and this rule is also supported by Dahlgren. The collection size of the Fort St John Public Library is currently 78,000 items; according to the projected user population of 20,000 people, the collection in 20 years should be at 98,000. Over the course of the next 20 years, there will be books that will be weeded and discarded from collection each year; there will also be books added each year and the net growth over 20 years will be 20,000 items.

Computer Workstations

Computers are a large part of the public library in this day and age. Many people do not have internet access at home and turn to the public library for their computing needs. Dahlgren recommends 1 computer station for every 10 visitors. I thought that this number was extremely high and since there appears to be a lot of lee-way in my design, I only calculated enough space for 10 public use computers, two of which would be located in the children’s section for games. This number does not include the four OPAC stations for searching the catalogue which are located in front of the circulation desk. Included in the special use space could be more room for public computers at a later date.

Way Finding

The children’s section must be highly visible from the entrance of the library and it should leave no doubt that it is a children’s space. People react positively to spaces in which they feel they belong and to spaces that they can easily access. The number of obstacles in the way of finding the children’s section and the distance from the entrance all play a significant role in how well used the space is (Feinberg 31); while the children’s section is located at the back of the library, it’s unique highly visible tree entrance will beckon children and parents into the space. It will also be easily accessible via the main aisle of the adult section which will act as a natural pathway. There will also be signage directing patrons to the children’s section when they first enter the library. Signage is a very important part of way finding, it must be clear and abundant.

Collection Space

For a detailed breakdown of the collection space for the entire library, please see Appendix A. In the children’s space, the children’s collection will not only include reference books, picture books and juvenile fiction and non-fiction, but also some periodicals, audio/visual materials, and music. The space will also hold a variety of toys and active learning equipment to facilitate learning (Feinberg, 40-41). This space allocation is broken down in detail in the appendix.

Reader Seating Space

The general recommendation for seating space in the library is that there should be five reader seats for every 1000 people it serves. Our design population is 20,000 people and based on Dahlgren’s reader seating schedule we should have 100 reader seats. This is a starting point and lounge seating takes up more space than study space, so the amount is dependant on the user populations needs. For the purposes of this project I will use the average of the 5 seats/1000 as my benchmark (Dahlgren 6). In Fort St John there are approximately 5000 children ages 1-14, according to this number, the children’s section should have roughly 25 seats.

Special Use Space

According to Dahlgren special use space should be allotted to different elements of the design that have not been accounted for in the rest of the calculations. According to the other space requirements, we have 251.12 m² of special use space. The Fort St John public library does not have a specific meeting room, as such the general meeting room space in the entire library design, will be allocated to a staff lounge which is not represented in Dahlgren’s calculations. The special use space will also be used as lee-way in the library design to incorporate more seating, shelving or computer space if necessary.

Staff Work Space

A large part of library space should be allotted to the provision of adequate staff work space so that staff can be as efficient as possible. According to Dahlgren it is important to examine every department and determine whether there is appropriate space at the various service points for staff to carry out their duties efficiently. He states that typically the area needed for a staff work station is 150 square feet and that usually more than one staff member can work at a work station at various times, therefore it is not necessary to integrate a staff workstation for every staff member into the design plan (Dahlgren). Because the library has 10 full time staff members I have allotted space for 10 workstations, or 139.35 m².

Meeting Room Space

Generally a library should allow for 10 square feet per audience seat plus 100 square feet for the speakers podium in meeting room space (Dahlgren 7). However, in the Fort St John Public Library there isn’t too much in terms of meeting room space, because there is no specific room designated as a meeting room. Instead, board meetings usually take place after hours in the seating area by the periodicals sections, staff meetings usually take place in the staff room and any other meetings are usually held in the meeting space in the Cultural Centre. There is some meeting room space incorporated into the design for story telling, but this is included in the children’s library section and is not contained in its own area.

Non-Assignable Space

Non-assignable space is the space in a design that is necessary to the operation of the building but cannot be directly assigned to library service. Examples of non-assignable space in the Fort St John Public Library are furnace rooms, washrooms, storage, corridors etc. According to Dahlgren, 20-25 percent of the gross square footage of the finished building is non-assignable space (Dahlgren 8-9).

Accessibility/provisions for persons with disabilities

The Fort St John Public Library has a commitment to providing barrier free access. The main doors to the library are equipped with automatic push buttons for handicapped access as well as ease of entry for parents with strollers and people who have difficulty pushing open doors. The library is located on one floor and has continuous carpet tile flooring with no lips or thresholds that could pose as a tripping hazard or make navigation difficult. The aisles are four feet wide to provide ample room for persons with disabilities and parents with strollers to navigate the stacks. Washrooms are also barrier free with automatic push button doors, automatic motion censored lights, taps and toilets. This is also helpful in stopping the spread of germs which was something mentioned in the literature as a problem with children’s areas.


A library should be a safe and secure place for the patrons who use the space and for the staff who work there. The library interior and exterior should be well lit with no secluded areas, there should be clear signage so patrons are not confused and know where to go. Children’s sections should be separate from the adult collection and should be located near a staff desk so that staff members are able to easily keep an eye on them. There should also be only one entry and exit point to the secure area of the library (not including alarmed emergency exit doors) so that all people entering or exiting the space have to walk through security gates and past the circulation desk and the library staff. This will protect the collection and prevent anyone from sneaking out of the library. The one entry or exit to a space also applies to the children’s section of the library; if it is its own distinct section, there should only be one entrance. This is for the children’s own security because as mentioned in class several times, from parents and from people who work in the public library, children, naturally curious, are quick and tend to run; if there is only one entrance, they are much easier to manage. And the final security consideration is a clear line of sight, staff desks should be situated so that they have a clear view of the stacks and the majority of the library; entrances to washrooms should also be highly visible, if not to the staff, then at least to highly populated areas (Moore 2007).


In a children’s space it is imperative that many safety precautions are taken. Children are a curious bunch and if there is a hazard, they will find it. Tying in with the nature theme, there will be a variety of plants situated throughout the space, for safety none of these plants will be poisonous because one never know when a curious child may decide to sample the green leaves. Carpet will be asbestos free and all the paint will be lead free. Tables will have round edges so that the playful child who runs into it will not be hurt on a sharp corner. Fire exits should be clear and well marked with signage and emergency lighting. The staff should be well trained in what to do in an emergency, and where emergency equipment is located; this is especially important with children who frighten easily and need to be accounted for (Feinberg, 39-40).

Public Areas

In a children’s section it is very important to have some public areas for parents to sit and supervise while their children play, browse and read. Since young children cannot be left unsupervised and the onus of supervision is on the parent, it makes sense to provide an area for the parent or caregiver to sit and relax while they watch their children interact. Soft seating is a nice feature as well as shelves containing parenting and childcare books to give parents something to occupy themselves with; this section should be located near the toddlers section (Brown 99).

It is also important to have a variety of public areas in the children’s section that will facilitate a variety of learning opportunities. From play to soft seating, it is integral in the child’s learning experience that there are places for them to play with toys and let their imagination soar in a make believe world, like that of the forest in our nature themed library. A variety of seating is also important; from tables with chairs, to soft seating for individuals and groups. There should be ample seating for a child to sit comfortably with a parent, sibling or friends to read or visit and also places for individual children to sit and read comfortably by themselves. The soft seating should create a warm intimate space where children can get lost in a book with end tables, and fun lighting, that is very child friendly and trendy.

Climate Control

Since the children’s section doesn’t have a door which opens directly outside (other than the emergency exit), we do not have to worry about drafts coming in from the outside when patrons open or close the door. However since there are a large amount of windows in the space, it is imperative that they are double paned and well insulated to keep the cold out and the heat in ensuring that it is an energy efficient space. There will have to be many vents and a good circulation system to regulate airflow and dust.


Children tend to be very noisy and since the library is generally a quiet place, it is important to ensure that the children’s section is located in its own area where it won’t disrupt the rest of the library. Certain design features which will absorb the sound emanating from the children’s section should also be included. The children’s section will have the same tile carpeting as throughout the rest of the library; carpeting helps absorb noise and it is also a good feature in children’s sections because they like to sit and play on the floor. The room will also be sectioned off by walls with windows looking out to the rest of the library and while glass will typically allow sound to bounce off, the walls will be double insulated and the ceilings will have absorptive tiles (Libris Design).

Lighting (natural and artificial)

Lighting is a very important feature of any building; it is especially important in a library because it is imperative to be able to see in order to read. Lighting effects mood, productivity and behavior and an ill-lighted space can act as a deterrent, and thus a barrier to the space. It is agreed that the best type of lighting is natural sunlight; while natural light is sometimes difficult to achieve inside a large predetermined building, there is an acceptable alternative: full spectrum lighting. Full spectrum lighting has similar wavelengths found in sunlight and mimics the positive effects that sunlight has on humans. Many buildings tend to use fluorescent lighting because it is a relatively inexpensive lighting option; however it has been associated with eyestrain, fatigue and irritability (Feinberg 36). Lighting, like the majority of the features in libraries, should be flexible in brightness and direction. It should also vary with a mix of track lighting and accent lighting to help create mood (Feinberg 36).

In the Fort St John Library’s children’s section there will be lots of light, both natural and artificial. The east wall will have large outside facing windows letting in lots of natural sunlight. There will also be windows on either side of the tree wall sectioning off the children’s space from the rest of the library. The ceiling will have full spectrum lighting that can be dimmed and there will be fun accent lights around the various sections indicating their different purpose. Incandescent lights will be avoided because although they are warm in color and have a more natural feel, they are inefficient and have a short lamp life. Instead High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Lamps should be used. HID lighting includes metal halide lamps and high pressure sodium lamps which are better alternatives to incandescent lights because they are very energy efficient, come in a variety of sizes and wattages, and have a nice warm color. Energy efficiency is something we want to strive for in our library following the LEED standards (Moore, Physical Environment).

It is recommended that for bookshelves the lighting have an equivalent sphere of illumination (ESI) of at least 30 footcandles, the circulation desk should have an ESI of at least 70 footcandles, the reading area for printed material should have an ESI of 30 footcandles, the reading area for studying and note taking should have an ESI of 70 footcandles and the washrooms should have an ESI of 30 footcandles (Moore, Lighting). It is also recommended that lighting above book stacks run parallel so that there is even illumination across the stack face which will help achieve good lighting from the top shelf to the bottom shelf (Moore, Physical Environment). Table lights are also a good way of adding more lighting to a specific area and can be incorporated into a design as part of the décor.


When designing a library it is very important to plan for furniture at the beginning of the design plan. Furniture is essential to making the space functional because without it the library could not serve its patrons and the staff could not work. The size and the amount of furniture needed play a big role in the overall planning project because the space and layout need to be designed with them in mind. It is also a good idea since you want the furniture to match aesthetically, have the right furniture for the right purpose and ensure that it fits well with the overall design theme. Planning a library involves looking at the broad picture, examining all the pieces that make up the library and planning for future growth and future needs. If the library planner can properly anticipate growth and future needs, they can design a space with the appropriate amount of space and furniture that will meet those needs (Moore, Physical Environment)

The most important things to keep in mind when selecting children’s furniture for a library are durability and scale. If furniture won’t stand up to the rough play and heavy use that will be encountered in a children’s section, then they shouldn’t be used; choose furniture that you know will last or at least that can easily be repaired (Moore, Physical Environment). Scale is another very important factor; children’s furniture should be at a scale that is the right size for small children. Since it is their space and we want them to feel comfortable and welcome we want every detail to send out the message that it is a space designed specially for them. Scale of furniture is the most obvious because if the furniture were adult sized then children would realize that it was not designed with them in mind, rather they were an after thought. Children’s tables and chairs should be comfortable for them to sit at and there should be two sizes, one for toddlers and one for juvenile or slightly older children. The recommended sizes for toddlers ages 0-4 should be as follows: tables should be between 20-22 inches high with seats that are between 12-14 inches. Juvenile furniture for children ages 5-9 should be as follows: tables should be between 24-26 inches high and chairs should be between15-16 inches high (Brown 99). A good rule of thumb is that there should be approximately 9 inches between the chairs and the tables (Moore, Physical Environment).

It is also important to keep in mind that children’s furniture should have rounded edges so as to avoid sharp corners. Furniture should be relatively easy to keep clean with wipe-able surfaces. Children’s chair should be very sturdy and stable making them hard to tip over. Chairs should also be able to accommodate an adult, either a parent or a staff member, so that they can sit and interact with the children at their level. The best way to do this is to have a variety of seating and have some with no arm rests (Brown 99). The other furniture in this section should also be at a scale friendly to children, such as the shelving (which will be discussed in the shelving section) and the children’s information desk.

The information desk in the children’s section should be located away from the adult area and in the activities area in order to encourage interactivity with the staff. The desk should be low enough so that the child can see over the desk and interact comfortably with the staff instead of having to crane their necks up and interact over a high intimidating desk. Brown recommends that the desk have a 29 inch work surface and 36 inch transaction top; this will keep the staff equipment out of sight and out of reach, but still be low enough that the child can comfortable see over the desk (Brown 100).


The shelving in the Fort St John Public Library’s children’s section will be a combination of metal and wood; they will have wooden ends and metal shelves that match the shelving in the rest of the library to ensure continuity in the design. The shelving will be low, no more than 4 shelves high (Thompson 203-5). This will ensure that children can reach all the shelves, there are good sight lines (visibility) and there is less chance of the shelves tipping. The shelving should also be adjustable and movable rather than built in so that the design can be flexible and adaptable in the future if the need arises. Most of the shelving will be double faced for optimal use of space and the shelves will have a small backstop to prevent books from falling behind. It is recommended that shelving only be 2/3s full to make room for the growth of the collection. (Moore, Physical Environment).

Shelving will be 0.37 m² apart to permit easy access for the disabled. The minimum standard for a barrier free library is only 0.29 m² aisles but in this library I want to exceed barrier free requirements to promote universal access. I think this is especially important in a children’s section because parents will often have strollers, backpacks or baskets with large picture books. Parents will often kneel down to be at the child’s level and it is important that they have more than enough room to maneuver. This is also important for the staff members who often have to kneel to shelve books, shelf read or help a patron locate an item in the low stacks, as part of their daily duties (Thompson 203-5).

Shelving with ample display areas is an important factor to consider in a children’s section of a public library. This is an important feature to have because A) you want to market what the library has and B) people tend to check out the books that are on display. Therefore the more books you have displayed the more likely they will circulate and if there are fun and exciting displays they will draw more people into the space. Displays should also incorporate new materials to showcase the library’s exciting new acquisitions.


Rolf Myller suggests that if there are only one set of washrooms that they be near the children’s section, not only for convenience but also so that children do not need to cross through the adult section (Myller 54-55). During a site visit to Spruce Grove Public Library, I noticed that they had the innovative idea of having a separate washroom in the children’s section just for them. This is the perfect solution to keeping the adult area and the children’s areas separate as we know that children sometimes get so involved in what they are doing that they do not want to have to make the long trek to the washrooms. I will adopt this idea in the Fort St John Public Library so that there will be a family washroom in the children’s section.

The washroom will be located next to the toddler’s area and the children’s services desk. I have situated it there because the bathroom should be highly visible to staff so that they can monitor who goes in there. This is a security measure for children and staff alike. The washroom cannot have a barrier free entrance due to the small space and the challenges that are associated with acoustics and barrier free washrooms. Instead it will have an automatic push button to open the door, which will be especially convenient for mom’s with children in strollers and aren’t able to pull open a door all that easily. The lights will be automatic with motion sensors, so children do not have to try and reach light switches and parents with their hands full do not have to worry about turning on or off the lights. This feature is also very environmentally friendly because the lights will automatically turn on and off depending on whether or not someone is using the washroom, therefore when it is not in use, the lights will automatically shut off saving electricity. The toilets and sinks will be automatic as well following with a universally accessible theme so people do not have to worry about manipulating handles. This is great for children because sometimes they do not know how to work the taps and this provides an easy solution. Many of these innovative ideas were seen at the Spruce Grove Public Library.

Carol Brown in her book on planning library interiors also states that there should be a family washroom near the children’s section. She states that the family washroom should be equipped with a change table and a bench for mothers to nurse. It is recommended that perhaps a wide sturdy bench is a safer alternative to a change table mounted on the wall because it will be easier for parents with toddlers in diapers to change them on a low wide surface that they can sit at. The bench would then decrease the amount of furnishings required for the space since it would be used for both nursing and as change table (Brown 101).

Traffic Circulation Patterns

In terms of traffic circulation in a public library, the library should be located near public transportation in a central location with accessible public parking near by (Moore, 2007). The Fort St John Public Library meets all this criteria; it is the heart of downtown, easily accessible from the major roadways, the buses all stop outside the library, and it has lots of public parking located around the building. In the library’s interior the circulation desk should be near the entrance and there should be natural aisle ways that lead people from the entrance to the various locations of the library (Moore, 2007). The Fort St John Public Library has all of these features and the design is intuitive and helps with the traffic flow.


In Feinberg’s book on learning environments for young children, it is mentioned that displays are an important part of the child’s learning experience in the library. There should be a variety of displays ranging from new books to books on a certain subject that should be changed periodically, to art work displays. Feinberg states that displays can “stimulate children’s interest in subject matter and validate their own explorations” (39) facilitating their learning. Displays should also be at the child’s level so that they get the best view and can reach up and touch the books making the library seem more welcoming. Paco Underhill also asserts that displays should be within children’s reach if you want them to discover it; they are tactile learners and thus like to touch, books that they can easily see and reach will be more likely to circulate (Underhill 3). In the Fort St John Public Library children’s section there will be two large displays when you first enter the space. The displays will be visible from the exterior and will hopefully draw readers into the space.

Last updated: March 15 2008
Contact: lkok@ ualberta . ca

Some of this project was fictional due to the lack of information on actual size of the building and collection. However the demographics of the city are real.