The primary goal of effective library design and space planning is that the facility must respond to the needs of its service population. Once the needs of its service population are determined, the library building must include flexibility in the design of its interior and exterior spaces and elements in order for the library to effectively address the immediate and future needs of its design population.

Since the late 1970's, advanced technologies and alternative methods of how libraries deliver services, i.e., distance learning, electronic media, continue to develop rapidly. Before the late 1970s, housing print media was the main function of a library. Today, Internet access, electronic media, computer technology, and other forms of modern-day advancements have had a profound effect on the function and design of libraries. As a result, library design must take into account all of the issues that may affect its use in the future. Incorporating flexibility and adaptability in the design, planning, and construction of libraries is essential in order for the library to serve the immediate and future needs of its community.

Photo of Denver Public Library

Denver Public Library, Denver, Colorado
Michael Graves Architects

The first step in the design of any library is a written building program that outlines the library's space needs. An effective program must include input from librarians and library staff who have hands-on experience with the function of a library, its space needs, and the needs of its service population. A general rule of thumb is that the program should project the space needs of the library for 20 years. A library building consultant can also help to prepare the building program. Library design is most effective if the program is developed before beginning the schematic design phase.


Information on several types of libraries is available on the WBDG:

Relevant Codes and Standards

Department of Defense

Additional Resources



  • Building Blocks for Planning Functional Library Space 3rd Edition, American Library Association, Building and Equipment Section. Scarecrow Press, 2011.
  • Checklist of Library Building Design Considerations, 4th ed. by William W. Sannwald. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2001.
  • Countdown to a New Library: Managing the Building Project by Jeannette Woodward. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 2000.
  • Designing Better Libraries: Selecting & Working with Building Professionals, 2nd ed. by Richard C. MacCarthy. Fort Atkinson, WI: Highsmith Press Handbook Series, 1999.
  • Library Buildings, Equipment, and the ADA: Compliance Issues and Solutions by Susan E. Cirillo and Robert E. Danford. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1996.
  • Library Buildings: Preparation for Planning by Michael Dewe, ed. New York, NY: K.G. Saur, 1989.
  • Library Journal
  • Library Off-Site Shelving: Guide for High-Density Facilities by Danuta A. Nitecki and Curtis L. Kendrick, eds. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2001.
  • Moving Lbrary Collections: A Management Handbook by Elizabeth Chamberlain Habich. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
  • Wired for the Future: Developing Your Library Technology Plan by Diane Mayo and Sandra Nelson. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1999.


  • Building Research Information Knowledgebase (BRIK)—an interactive portal offering online access to peer-reviewed research projects and case studies in all facets of building, from predesign, design, and construction through occupancy and reuse.