Features and considerations: Furniture and fittings

Furniture selection is instrumental in creating an appropriate library environment. Furniture and fittings should be attractive, durable and comfortable, and should be selected with the characteristics of the library architecture and customers in mind.

The selection of furniture should fit with the overall design scheme, and with philosophies governing flexibility, functionality and sustainability.

Selecting furniture

A trend towards moveable furniture, which is arranged to create a space or cluster, is an effective way of giving a sense of permanency while also allowing for customers and library staff to re-organise. Furniture selection should allow for individual reading as well as collaborative, social environments. It is normal practice for the building’s budget to include not only the total cost of the library building but also all built-in fittings, known as FF&E (fixtures, fittings and equipment) although this is not always the case.

If the architect’s scope and building budget do not allow for this work, it is highly likely that the library staff, who are not normally trained in interior design and furniture specification, will be responsible for the fitout. This can be very stressful and may lead to false economy in terms of the final outcome. See our Checklist for Library Fitout for items included in a typical fitout.

Checklist for library fitout
  • Shelving for different book collections
  • Display shelving for new books, quick reads
  • Specialist shelving for audiovisual materials, magazines and periodicals
  • Study carrels/single study tables, group tables and chairs
  • Lounges and comfortable chairs, bean bags, stools
  • Specific furniture for children's and youth areas
  • Specific furniture for specialist genre collections
  • Furniture with built in power and USB connections
  • Specialist storage and conservation resources for archival material
  • Local studies microfiche/microfilm
  • Craft and activity tables
  • Computer hardware and software, specialised IT commons (specialised group learning hubs) and IT desking, computer catalogue stations
  • Gaming areas
  • AV listening areas and specialised furniture
  • Workstations and office furniture
  • Signage
  • Information and other service desks, including self-service checkouts
  • IT nodes such as wall or shelf mounted terminals
  • Community information board/digital noticeboard
  • Public art, graphic walls, interpretive display
  • Room dividers in panel, sliding or curtain form
  • Fire-resistant book return chute
  • Audiovisual equipment
  • Meeting room equipment including tables, chairs (and storage), whiteboard, kitchen equipment.

Considerations for the selection of furniture

While the architecture of a new or refurbished library might be excellent, without careful design the fitout can diminish the final outcome.

The design and selection of furniture and fittings is very important and some of the following issues require specific attention.

Unified with overall design
The selection of furniture and fittings must be unified with the overall design concept. Colour, texture and materiality of all furniture and fittings has an immediate impact on the overall design and should therefore be integrated into an overall concept.

Furniture supplier range
Despite their convenience, furniture suppliers are not limited to library supply catalogues. Some furniture and accessory companies supply to designers, architects, builders and the domestic, retail, commercial and hospitality trade.

Modular furniture
Modular furniture has some advantage over custom built items such as greater flexibility and reduced cost, particularly for shelving, tables and desks. The systems are generally designed to be reassembled in a number of configurations and often accommodate power and data cable management. Custom items can also be designed as an assembly of smaller items/modules which can be used in different ways.

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic forced libraries to rethink the use of library spaces. Modular furniture and shelving on wheels allow for the reconfiguration of library spaces. Furniture can be used to create spaces and manage the flow of foot traffic around the library space. Consider how furniture will work during modifications, for example when needing to remove PCs and seats for social distancing curved or round tables may be more effective than rectangle tables. Stackable chairs and folding tables are easier to store if you need to limit seating. Furniture can be used to facilitate social distancing, for example appropriately spaced small booths or large ottomans could be designated as one per family in the children’s area. It may be difficult to manage social distancing for staff working at a large service desk. Pod style desks are generally staffed by one person and are easier to move around the library space so staff are distanced and customer movement can be managed.

Material choices
Colour, texture and materiality of all furniture and fittings has an immediate impact on the overall design and should therefore be integrated into an overall concept.

Indoor/outdoor use
Consider furniture choices that can be used inside and outside. Unused outdoor spaces can quickly become usable if needed due to social distancing and ventilation requirements. Furniture materials and finishes that can be easily cleaned are recommended.

Storage for furniture is important, if required to remove furniture for social distancing. Space for furniture storage should be included in library building planning where possible.

Stock availability
The future availability of stock should be considered in terms of replacement and new items.

Floor surfaces
Floor surfaces should be hard-wearing, easily replaced (particularly carpet), comfortable and non-slip. The choice of floor covering, as with all surfaces, will influence acoustic performance and aesthetics

Maintenance cost
The cost and ease of maintenance of all items should be considered particularly in reference to cleaning, painting and repairs.

Sustainable systems
Systems which allow for part replacement, re-upholstering, as well as recycling are a better long-term sustainable response.

Internal library space with collections and seating
Campsie Library
Booth seating against a window
Woollahra Library
Three bean bag style chairs next to the Teen Fiction and Sci-Fi & Fantasy shelves in a library.
Bathurst Library
Long view of library bookshelves, tables and chairs
Gordon Library
Long view of seating, tables and bookshelves in a library
Carnes Hill Library
Internal library space with different styles of seating and tables
Dubbo Library

Testing, certification and environmentally responsible selection

Testing and certification can ensure that products are not only safe, but that they will last, thus contributing to sustainability and minimising use of the earth’s resources. Other environmentally responsible choices include furniture made with sustainable timber and non-toxic materials. The following resources can help you choose appropriate furniture and fittings for your building.

Australasian Furnishing Research and Development Institute
The AFRDI is an independent not-for-profit technical organisation providing standards, testing, product certification and research for buyers and sellers of furniture.

Visit the AFRDI website

Green Star rating tool
The Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Green Star rating tool includes a series of criteria for environmentally responsible selection of furniture.

Learn about the Green Star rating tool

Service desks and self-check

Public libraries no longer require large reference, information and circulation desks, particularly with the use of RFID/self-check and roving librarians. Many are configured to be mobile and modular, on castors or wheels. Furniture and desk arrangements at library entrances have become far more flexible, welcoming and less hierarchical. There are areas for browsing, community noticeboards, reserved item pickup, newspaper lounges and cafes.

Some libraries continue to prefer a substantial service desk, particularly if there is a lower percentage of self-check and a more conservative community, while others have moved towards a modular, mobile and minimal arrangement as part of a suite of other elements. All desks, no matter what size, should allow for side by side consultation and searching with the customer.

Considerations for service desk systems

As service desks shrink, the design and location of self-check areas becomes increasingly important. Some libraries prefer to scatter self-check terminals throughout the library while others still consider the most appropriate location to be at the entry/exit, close to the service desk to provide assistance. While some library staff consider the pre-packaged self-check units to be more flexible, others view the integration of the self-check areas into the overall design to be fundamental to a unified aesthetic.

Despite these changes, the library staff must have the greatest input into the design of these items if a successful outcome is to be achieved. It is important to note that:

  • service desk models are changing in scale and configuration to allow for more side-by-side consultation and to allow for a greater proportion of roving staff. Some staff may still stand at desks for long periods and floor finishes should be forgiving on legs.
  • modular system can provide flexibility for later changes, reduction or extension.
  • correct desk and counter height are crucial and should cater for a range of users. Desks should be provided with a proportion of the surface at a height suitable for wheelchair users, those using mobility scooters, children and seated library staff
  • general and task lighting on dimmer switches for control should be provided where possible. The service area does not need to be flooded with light. High level illumination is only required to the desk surface.
  • clear sightlines to the service area can optimise staff efficiency, client navigation, and assist in general security and safety.
Internal library space with service desk and collections
Grafton Library
Information desk and collection shelving in a library
Rockdale Library
A library service desk stand, next to a shelf with wheels.
Dural Library

See Library building briefs for more detail on library fitout

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