Construction and Renovation

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From Dream to Ribbon Cutting

“To build or not to build” is one of the most important decisions that any library board will make.  Additionally, securing the necessary funds is more challenging than ever. How does a library board know the time has come for a renovation or new construction project?  In most instances, the decision is driven by:

  • An aging facility
  • Population growth or change
  • Increased demand for library services
  • Changes in community lifestyle or needs
  • A desire to add new services

As fiduciary agents, trustees must be educated about the process and closely engaged in a project’s planning and funding by:

  • Reviewing and understanding all of the research that affects the decision to move forward;
  • Appointing building and fundraising committees;
  • Serving as ambassadors for the project with community leaders;
  • Issuing bids for and selecting building consultants, architects, and contractors;
  • Proactively supporting fundraising efforts;
  • Working with the director to track progress; and
  • Ensuring continuing community and municipal support for the project.

A facilities assessment evaluates the present condition of a library facility, how space is allocated, and overall functionality from the perspective of staff and customers.  Facility assessments are generally conducted by a library building consultant as part of a strategic planning process.  Library building consultants are librarians experienced with library building projects and the complexities of working with library directors, trustees, architects, and contractors.

A consultant who conducts a facilities assessment will:

  • Evaluate a facility and the feasibility of conducting a renovation versus undertaking new construction;
  • Obtain input about capital needs from key stakeholders;
  • Project future space and service needs based on the community’s profile;
  • Explore options for obtaining additional space;
  • Recommend the size of the new facility;
  • Recommend the best use of space;
  • Estimate the project’s cost per square foot;
  • Explore the location of the facility and ascertain the availability of parking and/or proximity to public transportation; and
  • Determine what is needed for compliance to standards set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A facilities assessment is often the precursor to a more formal document known as a building program.  Also prepared by a library building consultant, the building program serves as a “letter to the architect” that guides the actual design for a renovation project or new building.  A library building program specifies the size required, space allocations, and the spatial relationships of areas within the building.


  • Take a board field trip and visit successful new library buildings.
  • Do a reality check.  The demand for services always increases in a new building.  Does the library have the financial capacity to increase its operating budget to cover additional materials, staff, and other operating expenses?
  • Be sure to conduct the research needed to understand the community’s vision for a new library.
  • Consider alternatives to new construction, such as rehabbed retail spaces or school buildings, shared spaces, or kiosks.
  • Don’t start with the architect.  Begin by working with a library building consultant who understands issues that are unique to library buildings. Projects that start with the architect often run into problems.
  • Take advantage of the public relations opportunities of a new facility.  Plan a party!

Checklist for a Successful Building Project:

  • Confirm unanimous board support
  • Appoint a building committee
  • Generate community enthusiasm for the project
  • Base the decision to proceed on reliable information
  • Carefully evaluate the potential for raising money
  • Develop a budget in anticipation of increased operating costs
  • Thoroughly review the building plan
  • Check the references of all contractors
  • Evaluate all bids thoroughly
  • Agree to a process for issuing change orders and tracking expenditures
  • Plan how to provide services while under construction
  • Adhere to all local ordinances and state contracting laws
  • Create a move in plan
  • Keep all trustees informed about progress
  • Keep the public informed
  • Generate excitement about the new facility
  • Plan a move-in celebration
  • Thank everybody who contributed to the project’s success


Fortriede, Steven C.  Moving Your Library:  Getting the Collection from Here to There.  Chicago, American Library Association, 2010.

McCarthy, Richard C.  Managing Your Library Construction Project:  A Step-by-Step Guide.  Chicago, American Library Association, 2007.

Miller, Kathryn.  Public Libraries Going Green—print/e-book bundle.  Chicago, American Library Association, 2010.

Woodward, Jeanette.  Countdown to a New Library:  Managing the Building Project, Second Edition.  Chicago, American Library Association, 2010.