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Academic Library Building Design: Resources for Planning: Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment

ACRL and Core have joined forces to provide a basic framework for architects, planners, and librarians embarking on the planning and design of libraries for higher education.

Updated October 2021

Furniture, Fixtures, & Equipment

Source: Brandeis University Library (Creative Commons)American Library Association. (2018). American Libraries Buyers Guide

American Library Association. (2015). Building libraries and library additions: A selected annotated bibliography. (ALA Library Fact Sheet 11).

Library Leadership and Management Association. (2011). Building blocks for planning functional library space. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.

Primary Research Group. (2012). Survey of library furniture acquisition practices. New York: Primary Research Group.

Polger, M. (2021). Library signage and wayfinding design. Chicago: American Library Association.

Schlipf, F. (2020). Constructing library buildings that work. Chicago: ALA Editions. 

Schlipf, F., & Moorman, J.A. (2018).  The practical handbook of library architecture: Creating building spaces that work. Chicago: ALA Editions.

Whole Building Design Guide Staff. (2017). Academic library.

Important Factors

When planning for furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) it is important that leadership and planners consider the following factors:


  • Extensive consultation with all library staff
  • Input from constituents/users, i.e. focus groups, charrettes or other patron input
  • Consideration given to bringing in a professional interior designer/architect
  • Learn from your spaces that are successful, understand why some of your spaces are not successful. Start with asking the question what are students trying to do?

Project Goals

  • Conformance with the library program and goals: How well does the FF&E support or enhance the desired project outcomes? Use interior furnishings to create a more inviting space and accessible services.
  • User needs and characteristics: Is the space designed to encourage extended usage, or transitory for in-and-out? Size of work surfaces, seating type, creature comforts such as lockers and furniture cubbies will influence length of stay.
  • Delineation between “collaborative” versus “individual” user activities
  • Efficacy of design: Will the actual use reflect the intended use? Example: A small 4-person table may realistically only be used by two.
  • Security issues juxtaposed with privacy interests. In some institutions security based need calls for more visibility and will influence height of partitioning, design and degree of private study space, and remoteness of location and layout
  • Sustainability considerations – energy efficiency; Meeting “Design for Environment” guidelines.
  • Staff areas mix of offices and collaborative open work areas, diversity of tasks and activities that staff are doing, focus on the workflow and function. Consider self-check-out stations, smaller more accessible service points, think about staff on the floor instead of behind desk, bring staff to users, may have more locations in response to evolving programs (i.e. maker space technical support).
  • Campus/Academic Partners, potentially shared spaces in the library, may have different hours.

Important Factors

Project Considerations

  • Flexibility (balance between order and chaos), mobility (user control) and adaptability (recognition of constant change in the 21st century library)
  • Reusability (value consideration), consideration of incorporating existing FF&E. Potential for refurbishment
  • Understand the investment timeframe for the furnishings, 10-15 years on institutional quality furniture, 3 year investment on task chair, need to think about trendy colors and durability, investment vs. buying and consideration of replacement and repair budget
  • Durability for 24/7 use in public areas. Check express warranties on products being considered
  • Ergonomic and ADA considerations, importance of the “sit test” for seating. Provision of a variety of postures/heights suggestive of differing seating types (lounged, seated, café height, standing height)

Space Considerations

  • Acoustics, Space and Furniture will impact user comfort and use
  • Appropriate lighting for all spaces including task lighting. Balance of natural and artificial lighting

·         Technology management: wire management, adequacy to support desired hosting hardware. Powered vs. non powered workstations. Availability of power for patron use. Ability to support user devices brought into the space. Flexibility of power provision (floor grid; raised floor).

  • Low tech solutions, i.e. white boards,
  • Branding, wayfinding and signage should be thoughtful, consistent and intentional, leverage library marketing resources
  • Leverage relationship/use of indoor and outdoor spaces.


Many of the sites in the Precedents section (above) address library furnishings. Vendors are also available at the American Library Association Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences and are conveniently listed alphabetically and by category in those conference program guides.