Design Principles


Reorganizing buildings to be structured around a central gathering area focuses the spatial configuration of the library on the people rather than the collection.

Historically, a library’s primary function was transactional in nature; patrons came to the library in search of a book or article and the role of the building was to efficiently direct them to the material. The resulting buildings were repositories of books defined by rows of collections, punctuated by solitary reading spaces. A modern library is a dynamic, civic space that aims to be transformational for its patrons and itself by creating a venue for shared resources and experiences.

Planning Implications

  1. Buildings should be organized around a core of informal gathering space
  2. All branches should include a ‘Neighborhood Living Room’ at the heart of the building
  3. Collections shift to the perimeter or areas that frame the gathering spaces


A rebalancing of space from collections to people allows the library to reinforce a sense of community with engaging gathering spaces that promote interaction.

Libraries continue to evolve into technologically rich social environments but their value is no longer defined by the breadth of material collections. The library’s greatest resource is its people. Library buildings should facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experiences across diverse populations. In an environment that fosters open communication and collaboration, a visitor can find a wealth of information in their local librarians and neighbors as well as in the pages of a book.

Planning implications:

  1. Library users have widely expressed the need for more dedicated meeting space
  2. Small scale meeting space are needed in addition to larger community meeting rooms
  3. Larger regional branches may serve as grand, civic scale venues that are an asset to the entire city
  4. The inclusion of unprogrammed, flexible ‘soft space’ is critical


Reconfiguration allows the library to embrace change and continue to find innovative ways to deliver service that supports the shifting needs of the community.

Specific change cannot be easily predicted, but change is a constant. A 21st century library’s adapts to rapidly changing needs of the community. Buildings must be designed with the flexibility to evolve with broad societal trends over time and also be nimble enough to adapt to the day to day fluctuation of individual user needs.

Planning Implications

  1. Spaces should be defined by furniture or mobile partitions when possible
  2. Consideration should be given to future change when spaces must be defined by walls or building form.
  3. Providing a variety of spaces with adequate infrastructure (i.e. outlets, technology) can provide flexibility without necessitating moving furniture or partitions


Removing barriers between people, knowledge, and resources, the library supports inclusive spaces that accommodate learning opportunities for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

The library should foster an environment that is based on respect, engagement, and equal and broad access of its resources. Minimizing barriers between patrons and staff allows them to speak to people on the same level and interact as members of the community. Providing a free, public access point to technology gives those who need it a means to bridge the digital divide.

Planning implications

  1. Smaller, mobile service points bring make staff more approachable.
  2. Introducing self-service opportunities for patrons streamlines the borrowing process and frees up librarians to interact with patrons.
  3. In addition to public computers, but also accommodations for patrons bringing their own devices to with wide distribution of power and data outlets and wi-fi coverage
  4. Provide technology intensive meeting space support patron needs as well as the libraries educational programming


In revealing itself to the community, the library is an equitable environment that promotes access to resources for growth and learning.

Historic library buildings are often imposing civic structures with protective masonry facades, and grand entrances elevated above the street. While these buildings are beautiful, they present themselves as fortresses, not inclusive public spaces. New libraries should be inviting beacons to the community. This requires a shift from an opaque, monumental aesthetic to designs rooted in transparency and accessibility. The notion of visibility guides both the appearance and location of buildings.

Planning Implications

  1. Branches should be placed on prominent sites near active centers of the communities they serve
  2. Buildings should allow controlled views inward and a visual connection outward to the neighborhood.
  3. Expansive glass required to achieve this should be thoughtfully placed and treated appropriately to control natural light.
  4. Visibility should be a driving force on the interior, prioritizing a sense of openness, optimal sightlines, and visual control by staff.


Retaining the historic character of library buildings preserves a story of the city and neighborhoods across generations.

Like other institutions with a long and storied past, Cleveland Public Library is housed in buildings constructed over the span of more than a century built in styles range from neo-classism to postmodernism. Many are still active in historic Carnegie Libraries and others were designed by renowned Cleveland architects, adding an integral layer to the local historic fabric. The significance of the library’s building stock should always be taken into account when determining the path forward for branches.

Planning Implications

  1. When existing buildings are in good condition, renovation is often the most fiscally and environmentally sustainable approach
  2. Careful consideration should always be given to the existing building’s ability to support the future needs; building new will be an appropriate course of action in many cases.
  3. Additions and renovations should be respectful of historic structures but should be designed to be of their time and place