David Sabsay
Library Consultant

Aspects of Library Facility Development


The first logical step in facility development is the preparation of a needs assessment study. While many building projects will advance without a formal document of this sort, it is the best way to achieve sound planning results and to convince public authorities and the community at large that objective measurements and standards should form the basis of any subsequent proposal. Following are the key elements of such a study:


The final cost of a building project cannot be determined until the project is completed and closed out, with all furniture and equipment procured and even moving costs established. Prior to that time, the architectural firm and their cost estimator will produce budget figures in every stage of the design process. But what to do until the architects come? (And how will one tell if their figures are reasonable?) An experienced consultant will be able to provide cost estimates at an early stage: when only the size of the building may have been established, or when there may be a building program, but no architectural studies, and this can be crucial in determining whether adequate funding exists to justify proceeding further.

Some elements of the project may already have been achieved. A site, for example, may be owned by the agency or already purchased. A site survey may have been made, possibly in connection with the purchase. Other elements of the project may be allocated to funds other than the capital project fund with which the board, the director, or the architects are concerned. For example, the city or county public works department may absorb some site development costs, utility connection fees, etc. Even so, good management practice requires the project manager to be aware of total costs. Following are the major cost elements of a project:


The mantra "location, location, location" applies fully as much to libraries as it does to gas stations, restaurants, and homes. A central site, convenient for most people to reach, will result in the greatest volume of use. This in turn reduces operating costs, which, over the lifetime of a building, will amount to many times the cost of construction. Following are the major considerations in selecting a site:


Before any design work begins--indeed, before architects are selected--it is essential that there be a detailed building program. This is a document that sets forth the purpose and scope of the project; specifies all of the functions that are to occur and how they relate to each other; quantifies all library material collections; lists every item of furniture and equipment, and its location by functional area of the building; and describes every mechanical, electrical, and electronic system to be incorporated into the structure. Laying all of this out in a written document insures that every facet of the library is thought through and accommodated. The document serves as a prescription for the architects, and can be used to determine whether their designs and specifications meet the project requirements.

In a few large libraries where there is sufficient prior experience with this process, staff is able to create the building program. In most cases, however, it is a library building consultant who puts it together, in close consultation with staff. Whoever prepares the document must know enough about libraries to seek out or produce the necessary information, and enough about building design to convey it in a format that is clear and useful to the architects. Following are the key elements that a good program should contain:


No single decision is more important in achieving a successful building project than the choice of an architectural firm. The agency responsible for the project, the "owner" should cast as wide a net as possible to ensure that the best available professionals are included. It is also usually advisable to involve a broad spectrum of the community in the selection process, through a standing board or an ad hoc committee, so that the architects selected will enjoy some degree public confidence and acceptance.

Based upon a carefully crafted RFP, which the library consultant can assist in developing, each interested individual and firm should submit a proposal, along with a brochure containing appropriate supplementary material. These submittals can then be used to identify architects who appear to be especially well qualified for the project. Following are some major considerations:

The next step in the selection process is to interview the most promising firms. Each should be allowed time to make a presentation. After that, questions should be posed that are designed, among other things, to bring out the firm's experience, and that of its engineering consultants; the way it would organize the work; and how it would relate to various local officials, library staff, and library consultant. The consultant can provide a list of such questions if requested.

It is not enough for an architect to have designed libraries; they must be successful buildings. The only way to tell is for some members, at least, of the selecting body to visit one or more completed projects . The consultant can assist in evaluating the project, and local staff are always willing to discuss what works well and what may not. Such visits will also show the architects' styles and esthetic sensibilities.

Once a firm is selected, a fee is negotiated and a contract prepared. It is essential that the latter contain clear statements of the services to be provided and how the fee relates to each of them. The consultant can be of assistance here. It is helpful to use AIA contract forms, have stood the test of time.


No matter how carefully prepared and detailed the building program, the task of translating it into a fully functional schematic design is very difficult. The library consultant can be of considerable assistance to the architects during this process by interpreting concepts, adding knowledge of library operations, and critiquing draft drawings. The best library designs, in fact, are the product of close collaboration between architects and consultant , where the results are a fusion of their thoughts.

For further background, see Why are public libraries so difficult to design? and What are the most common errors in library design?





As the architects and engineers develop detailed drawings and specifications, they make thousands of decisions about materials and design. Many of these will directly impact the operation or maintenance of the library. It has proven very useful for the library consultant to review these documents as they progress in order to assure conformity with the building program, catch potential problems, and make suggestions for improvements.

Some of the matters which the consultant can provide particular expertise include library shelving; the provision of power and cabling for computers and other electronic equipment; lighting levels needed in different activity areas; the design of circulation and reference desks; and appropriate signage.





The selection of furniture for a public library is far more than a matter of "interior design." The pieces must be as functional as the building itself, and as durable as possible. A library consultant understands the purpose of each item and the conditions under which it must perform. He will know its proper dimensions and have experience with the various materials that are available. He will be familiar with the major lines of furniture, and what has proven to be successful in similar circumstances.

The library staff will be knowledgeable about those items of specialized equipment with which they have been working. The consultant can help to identify equipment that is new or new to the staff. For both furniture and equipment, the consultant is able to write specifications that will assure quality of design and construction, and result in procuring exactly what is desired

David Sabsay