The 21st Century library is an essential learning environment where students can gather, research, study  and collaborate.

Today, Margaret “Peg” Sullivan shares key things to think about when specifying furniture for a library environment. An industry voice for 21st Century libraries, Peg is the driving force behind Smith System’s expanded library furniture offerings.

When specifying library furniture, what is the first element that should be determined?

First, listen carefully to school administrators to understand all the roles the library will play in the new school.  Today school libraries are even more complex than in previous generations because of all the technology integration.

School libraries should invite students to come in, offer a diverse selection of resources, and make those resources available in a comfortable, flexible environment. The library will also host parent, faculty, board, and community meetings.  Aesthetically pleasing, this space usually enjoys a prominent location, high visibility, and a lot of traffic.

Every one of these considerations has a cost, and those costs have to be managed.  Prior to bidding a school library, a clear budget should be established and everyone should agree on specification requirements and compromise points.  District decision-makers shouldn’t be forced into accepting whatever the “low bid” is at the end of the process simply to save money; that strategy usually results in a mediocre library that cannot support programs and services.

Realistic compromises made early in the process can generate an affordable specification package.  Understand all the library requirements, and suggest alternative solutions and furnishings to meet the school’s needs while adhering to their budget.

What are the most commonly overlooked aspects of specifying school libraries?

The most overlooked aspect of a library is the need to access power easily.  Unfortunately, a floor plan and furniture selection can be completely dictated by where the electrical outlets are in a library.

All too often the power outlets are on the exterior walls.  Frequently, the outlets are hidden behind shelving units so they can be extremely awkward to access.

The issue is exasperated now with the need to plug in laptops and other computer or electronic equipment throughout the space.  Floor outlets are a significant improvement but they still can require students and staff to crawl under tables to access power.

In our new line we introduced the I~O Post, which places power at student fingertips.  The I~O Post has outlets at seating height and allows students to position soft seating or personal tables around the power source.  It is also a convenient way to access power for multimedia projects and other presentation equipment.