As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts
To Bangkok Conference programme

65th IFLA Council and General

Bangkok, Thailand,
August 20 - August 28, 1999

Code Number: 130-103-E
Division Number: VI
Professional Group: Library Buildings and Equipment
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 103
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No

Designing Libraries to Meet Future Needs

C. David Warren
Richland County Public Library
Columbia, South Carolina, USA
E-mail: Cdwarren@richland.lib.sc.us



The financial investment involved in the construction of a major library building is a commitment to a structure and its design that will probably have to serve the community for several decades. Under normal conditions, a new building should be designed based on the needs that might be realized over a period of at least twenty years. In reality, most buildings must serve for a much longer period of time. In order for the building to continue to function effectively, the structure and its layout must incorporate numerous elements of flexibility and adaptability.

The application of advanced technologies and new methods to deliver library services are changing daily. These changes impact on how library services are delivered, making it imperative that new structures address the matters of flexibility and adaptability in design and construction. These considerations range from such design issues as the elimination of unnecessary load-bearing walls to connectivity issues.

A vision of where libraries may be two, five and ten years from now is difficult, but an effort should be made to consider what issues may impact on the effective use of the library building in the future. Aside from the local librarian or other library representative responsible for overseeing the design and construction project, it is extremely advantageous to utilize a architectural firm that is knowledgeable in modern day library design. In selecting the architect, information about the experience of all interested firms and an expression of the firms' understanding of current library functions is crucial. If the firm that is selected does not come with this expertise, it is the responsibility of the library representative to educate those who will be preparing schematic design work.

A necessary tool for defining what should be incorporated in a new building and a vision of elements important to a long-term use of the structure is a written building program statement. Such a statement represents the library's instructions to the architect.

A well developed, thorough, written building program statement should be prepared with the input of the library staff that is involved in the daily operation of the library. No one else knows better the demands and desires of the library users. It can also be advantageous to employ the services of a library building consultant to evaluate needs and actually prepare the building program statement. The document should be prepared well in advance of advertising the library design project or competition.

Much can be learned from observing how other libraries have addressed the issue of planning a building to meet future needs in recently completed building projects. The IFLA Section on Buildings and Equipment is working to provide information on new library buildings on IFLANET. This can be used to identify and then contact libraries with buildings of comparable size or service programs that might provide information on how they dealt with design issues. The same kind of sharing of information is the focus of the Section's Plenary Session in Bangkok.

The libraries discussed in the papers presented include the following:

  • The Richland County Public Library, Columbia, South Carolina, USA
  • Zhejiang Provincial Library, Zhejiang Province, China
  • City Library, the Hague, Netherlands

Incorporating Flexibility in Public Library Design:
Application in a South Carolina USA Library

Planning for the new headquarters building of the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, South Carolina, USA, at the beginning of this decade, involved close attention to the design of a building that could be adapted for future use. More than thirty years had been spent trying to obtain the financial means for constructing a new library building or expanding the building constructed in 1952. The latter was inconceivable since it contained many barriers to adding additional space to the core building.

Columbia, South Carolina is located in the fast-growing southeastern region of the United States. It is the capital city for South Carolina, home to the largest university in the state, and the location of Ft. Jackson Military Base. The Library serves a local population of 300,000 with a metropolitan population of approximately one-half million people.

The headquarters building was opened in 1993. Between 1991 and 1993 this building and seven branch libraries were constructed simultaneously. All sites were chosen and all buildings designed to allow for tripling of the size of the footprint of any of the buildings.

The architect for the building was chosen on the basis of his understanding of library functions and needs in library building design. He, also, had the experience of designing more than ten successful public library buildings in the United States.

The building includes 242,000 square feet or approximately 27,000 square meters of space. The building is designed on four levels, each connected by elevators, escalators and stairs. It incorporates large open spaces that can be adapted for use as needs change.

Since libraries are specific use structures, design of a library building should allow form to follow function. The most important factor to our Library was that the building be designed from the inside out. While it was important to have an impressive building in its external and interior features, it was more important that the building function well as a library. We did not want a structure in which we had to place library functions and have to try to make them work. It had to work for library users and library staff alike.

Foremost in considerations in the modular design of the building were the matters of how the site and building could be used and adapted as changes occur in the delivery of library services and as new services are instituted. The following were given careful evaluation and study:

  • The site acquired had to be adequate in size to allow horizontal expansion of the building, allowing for it to be tripled in size.
  • Modular design was incorporated, allowing for uniform design and ease of building expansion if desired in the future.
  • Load-bearing walls were eliminated except where absolutely necessary. This included exterior walls as well as interior. Two exterior walls can be knocked away, allowing for horizontal expansion of the building if needed in the future. Interior space can be readapted for use as desired and needed.
  • The use of poured in place concrete construction provides the foundation necessary to add additional levels to the building if needed for future expansion.
  • Lighting was designed on a modular layout that allows for placement of shelving, study tables, etc. in virtually any arrangement and layout. The lighting also eliminated the need for task lighting. Added value was the elimination of anything other than a minimal heating system for the building since the building is primarily heated by the electrical ceiling lights, computers and the energy generated by a very heavy flow of users. This is also a plus for task lighting if used as a secondary light source.
  • Floor covering in all public areas and many office/staff areas is modular carpet tile. Carpet is used in American libraries to control sound, for ease in maintenance, and for environmental reasons. The carpet tiles allow the floor covering to be replaced when wear and soiling occur in areas. If walls are removed or added, matching carpet tile can be easily installed without having to replace large areas of floor covering.
  • The primary source for telecommunications and energy distribution throughout the building is flat wiring. This is placed flat on the concrete floor surfaces underneath the carpet tile and run to the location where the power or telecommunications source is needed. If the equipment for which connectivity is needed is relocated or if additional equipment is added to a location, the carpet tile can be removed in the area and the flat wiring replaced to the area where needed. This can be accomplished without the need for an engineer and can be completed in a matter of minutes by a library operations assistant. The cost of flat wiring is competitive with more traditional methods of wiring.

The building has proven to be successful. In the first six years of occupying the building, changes, especially those related to upgraded technologies and new service programs, have occurred. Some of these changes have required that areas of the building be adapted to new uses. The flexibility incorporated in design elements has allowed these changes to occur without significant costs and without jeopardizing the integrity of the building.

C. David Warren, Director
Richland County Public Library
Columbia, South Carolina 29201-3101 USA

Note: A PC/PowerPoint presentation will follow on how spaces have been adapted within the building for a Library Business Service Center and computer training center and how other library advancements have been made over the past six years.


Latest Revision: August 3, 1999 Copyright © 1995-2000
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions