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Step 7: Zone your interior

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      In my article, “10 Steps to a Better Library Interior,” published in the Library Journal Library by Design Supplement, I outline several tips on how to improve a customer’s experience in your library building without spending money on a major renovation. I have had many follow-up requests for more information, so I have decided to offer a deeper discussion on each step in this blog series.

      Adaptability is a key element in a well-designed library building. Libraries are being asked to accommodate myriad functions today. Because none of us has a crystal ball, a library building’s adaptability and flexibility play a crucial role in the determining how well the library will function in the future.

      Designers often provide flexibility by designing and renovating libraries to have a wide-open floor plate with very few walls. Although this strategy allows the building to be easily reconfigured, it can also be a source of headaches for the library customers and staff, if the building isn’t zoned by activities, use, and acoustics.

      Consider the sources of sound within each area to avoid conflicts in acoustics. Sound comes from many places. The most obvious source is air-borne noise such as speech or music, but sound also comes from structural vibration (e.g., the moving parts of mechanical equipment sending vibrations through the floor) and impact (e.g., footfalls on a hard floor). Understanding how and where sound is generated is an important first step in zoning your interior. Some noise issues may be too costly to address, such as isolating or eliminating mechanical noise. Zoning activities can help to greatly reduce the effect of the noise.

      Think through the host of likely activities within your library to avoid conflicts in privacy, security, sociability, and acoustics. Some people come to your library to socialize, while others come for quiet study. To meet the needs of a diverse mix of customers, your building should gracefully accommodate both and everything in between. Consider the activities that are noisy—for example a coffee shop that is commonly used as a place for meeting and conversation. Consider the activities that are likely to be quiet, such as researching family genealogy. Which function is best located adjacent to the new materials display?

      Most people are tolerant of noise when they have an expectation that it will be present. Zoning your interior based on the level of activity and sound will help make it clear which areas are meant to be quiet and which areas are meant to be livelier.


    • locate quiet reading areas away from the fray, and use architecture or shelving to create a sense of enclosure and help signal how to behave
    • About the Author

      Traci Engel Lesneski

      • Interior Designer / Principal
      • traci@msrdesign.com
      • 612 991 7764
      • View Bio