Reader-friendly environments

How your school library looks and feels, and how staff interact with students plays a critical role in engaging students with reading.

There are a number of factors to consider if you want to create an environment in your library where students “feel at home” as readers.


Library physical space
Furniture and fittings
Shelving and collections
Signs and notices
References and further reading

Library physical space

Consider how the library welcomes readers and provides an environment that will make them "feel at home" as readers.

  • Is the library spacious and light
  • well-designed for a variety of activities by students of all ages
  • clearly laid out to facilitate independent use
  • with plenty of comfortable seating
  • good use of colour, signage and display
  • collections effectively arranged for maximum appeal and easy access
  • warm in winter / cool in summer, well-ventilated and with access to the outdoors if possible?

Create some relaxing, tucked away reading spaces out of traffic flows and distractions. And some social reading spaces where students can discuss books as a group.

One idea is to create "secret spaces" for children to curl up and read such as a corner, window seat, tent or alcove. Sturm (2008). The understanding of secret spaces has important implications for the physical design of school library media centers (SLMCs). If you are thinking of creating permanent “secret spaces” outside the sightlines, discuss the implications carefully with your school.

Tent in library

For more information on developing your library space read Spaces and Places section.

Furniture and fittings

Look for colourful, comfortable, and practical furniture to suit different activities and different sized students. Ensure your issue desk is welcoming and accessible for younger and older students.

  • Carpet, rugs, soft furnishings, sunfilter curtains or blinds if necessary. See the School libraries galleries for inspiration.
  • Seating - sofas are popular, but take up a lot of room. Modular low chairs are more flexible. Bean bags need to be robust!
  • Cushions - need removable washable covers.

Shelving and collection

Arrange your collection logically and accessibly, with as much face-out display as possible to attract readers.

  • Label the different sections and sequences. Keep them at a height that will allow students to find resources easily.
  • Ensure shelves are not too full.
  • Keep a Suggestions book, or a Feedback and Suggestions page on the library blog so students can provide input into collection development.

Reading in bronze

image by colemama

Signs and notices

Clear professional signs will help orient your library users. Use a positive, friendly tone for any rules and requirements. Signs you may wish to use include:

  • signs welcoming readers to the library
  • an outside 'Library is Open / Closed' sign
  • “Sandwich board” highlighting events in the library that day
  • guidelines for library use, including how to leave the library after a class visit.


Book displays highlight and promote new or interesting books. Displays might be on a theme, make recommendations, and / or draw attention to a smaller group of titles to help students select resources. If changed regularly they bring a fresh element to each library visit.

“The quality and kind of displays - or absence of them - is another accurate indicator, I find, of the value placed on books and reading in the school.” Aidan Chambers, The Reading Environment (PETA, 1991)

  • Locate displays in high profile areas, at the right height for students, with good lighting and space to stand nearby.
  • Smaller displays that change frequently will be more effective.
  • Encourage students to explore new authors / titles / genres using displays, posters and lists of most popular, class favourites, personal recommendations.
  • Enable students to borrow the books from the display.. The possible exception might be new books on display for a week to promote them, which students can reserve.
  • The library can be a wonderful place to display art and other student work. Collect material from classes at the end of the school year for Term 1 rather than in the first term when students are often doing work for their classroom display.  Consider making the Library a Gallery, with certificates awarded for work displayed.
  • Consider book discussions, reader’s theatre, or web 2.0 initiatives such as a blog or LibraryThing as these actively involve the students and encourage participation.

Resources and further reading

Read the Ministry of Education and National Library of New Zealand joint publication (2002): The school library in the information landscape: guidelines for New Zealand schools (p.40-43) for considerations of library design generally.

Resources for developing library displays:

  • School Library Displays blog by Elaine Pearson, Librarian at Horowhenua College
  • Creative Library Displays website by Anita Vandeburge, Librarian at St Kentigern College Library. 
  • Skerricks blog by Ruth Buchanan, an Australian Teacher Librarian
  • The International Reading Association website (US focus) has calendar with author birthdays, and links to resources, websites, lesson plans etc.
  • Sparklebox has downloadable library posters
  • Use tools such as Wordle to create displays, for example of fantasy with fantasy authors, or an author’s name with all their titles, or a theme eg horse stories or dystopian fiction

Chambers, A. (1991) The reading environment: how adults help children enjoy books. Stroud, UK: Thimble.
La Marca, S. & Macintyre, P.(2006).

Knowing readers: unlocking the pleasures of reading. Carlton, Vic: SLAV.

Sturm, B.W.(2008, March-April). Imaginary “geographies” of childhood: school library media centers as secret spaces. Knowledge Quest, 36 (4).