New Libraries

Designing new or refurbishing school libraries

There are schools across the country who are investing in their school libraries. There are guidelines and specifications below which should help, but if you require more specific guidance please give us a call or email. 

We can assist over the phone, by email or in person. 

We are also always happy to receive photos or write ups about school library developments or refurbishments. 

Planning and design of school libraries


The location of the Library/ Learning Resource Centre (LRC), its size and its environment are crucial in ensuring its effective use by students and staff. The design and size of the school library is indicative of the status given to the library as a whole school resource. If it is one of the first things both visitors and school staff and pupils see on entering the school it can reinforce the message that independent learning and reading are given a high profile.

The SLA recommends that the use of the LRC to support learning and teaching should be planned within a framework of whole-school, cross-curricular delivery of the curriculum. The learning resources provided within the LRC will be in many formats to ensure that the curriculum is fully supported and that multiple learning styles are accomodated. Careful planning of the layout of the LRC and the arrangement of the resources will help staff and students to make the best use of all types of stock and information, but it is vitally important that the LRC has enough space to take this into account.


Library location can have a significant impact on how the library is used by pupils and staff, so we recommend that the LRC should be in a central location with an entrance that is as accessible as possible to all students and staff, including any users with mobility difficulties. You will need to consult both the 1995 and 2005 Disability Discrimination Acts when planning any changes to the LRC.

Building Bulletin 103 recommends at least one library or learning resource centre (LRC) with a total area of at least 9 square metres plus 0.05 square metres for every primary pupil place and 0.12 square metres for every secondary pupil place. The SLA regard these recommendations as the minimum area possible for an effective library.

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) space guidelines give recommendations of the amount of space to allow for school populations in the typical secondary school age range of 11 years to 16 years. 

We recommend that 10% of the school population or a whole class (whichever is the greater number) should be able to be seated within the LRC at any one time. This is the recommended minimum space needed to effectively carry out the functions of the LRC as a support for learning and teaching. This should be designed to reflect the intended purpose - possibly with a teaching space, independent study space and computers as well as soft seating. 


The Education Funding Agency, the DFE’s delivery agency for funding and compliance, have developed baseline designs for schools. These demonstrate good practice and show what can be achieved within the set cost and area allowances. The details of the baseline designs are set out, together with associated drawings and technical analyses.

For ideas and further guidance on design visit the Designing Libraries website and in particular their reference library on school design


For recommended levels of lighting for the LRC, the DFE have issued PSBP, Baseline Designs: Daylight Strategy.


Whatever the size of the library, it is important that the shelving is adjustable and has integral supports as part of the system. Shelving is usually made of wood or metal and comes in a variety of colours. End panels are available in a variety of colours and fabrics. It is important not to position shelving too high for students to reach safely.

The SLA recommends the following maximum heights.

  • 1200mm for primary schools
  • 1500mm for middle schools
  • 1800mm for secondary schools (5 shelves; may need to be attached to a wall)

Further recommended measurements for secondary schools are:

  • 300mm height of the bottom shelf from the floor
  • 900mm length of individual shelves
  • 175 - 200mm depth for horizontal shelving for all stock
  • 250 mm depth for horizontal shelving for oversize stock
  • 300mm sloping shelving for display / periodicals (6)


The LRC will require a flexible layout to support the range of activities carried out in the library. Low chairs, soft seating and coffee tables allow for comfortable browsing. Small tables and appropriate height chairs for group work and a separate study area will provide the most flexible use of the library. These should be placed carefully in order to maximise access and flow, as well as mitigate any potential behavioural issues.

 If computer access and audio materials are also to be incorporated then appropriate storage and furniture is necessary. For up to date information on suitable LRC furniture suppliers search the SLA website for Library Equipment and Furniture Suppliers. 



The SLA provides an advice line for members, so do call for any more information. In addition, it may be possible for SLA staff to assist in the planning if further support is needed.