Publication: Journal of the Medical Library Association
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 67341
ISSN: 15365050
Journal code: JMLA

Khan, Ayub. Better by Design: An Introduction to Planning and Designing a New Library Building. London, TJK: Facet Pub lishing; 2009. 195 p. $149.95. ISBN: 978-1-85604-650-3.

After the first blush of excitement begins to wane, most librarians faced with the prospect of planning a new library or a major renovation move directly into panic mode. Planning for construction can be overwhelming, even for those who have been through the process in the past. Khan writes a book aimed at librarians who have never been in charge of this daunting task. Based on his experiences as the principle project officer for the Library of Birmingham, Kingdom, he offers basic considerations without overwhelming the reader with too much detail. The UK slant is important to note, because many of the building restrictions, terminology, and acronyms may not be familiar to North American authences. For instance, readers may find references to "the MLA" confusing if they fail to check the list of acronyms in the front of the book, which defines the MLA as the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

Khan begins his overview with a look at evolving trends in twentyfirst century library buildings. Books aimed at library construction are not particularly plentiful, and many are already dated. While some of the listed trends may seem obvious to current library practitioners, the chapter provides a useful starting point for discussions with architects, institutional administrators, and library staff. The author emphasizes collaboration (both with institutional partners and library patrons), integration of service points, and expansion of materials beyond the book.

Several particularly useful chapters in the book describe how to create a business plan for the library construction project. Complete with sample forms, Khan discusses how a formal business plan can illustrate the need for a new building, while showing administrators that you have carefully considered all options and budgetary aspects of the projects. Additional chapters are devoted to creation of a planning team and considerations for selecting an architect. While some of the team suggestions are aimed at specific UK officers (e.g., COM coordinator), most have corresponding roles in North American construction, and the emphasis on strong leadership and good communication is relevant to any planning team. Useful checklists suggest important qualities to consider when selecting and interviewing for an architect. Librarians interested in a more detailed look at working with North American architects and construction managers will find McCarthy's book invaluable [I]. As an architect and a long-time library trustee, this is the source for understanding the minutia of architectural details and terminology as they relate to libraries. McCarthy also provides much greater depth on the breakdown of responsibilities between the architect, the contractor, and the owner. And, while Khan devotes several pages to environmental concerns, McCarthy has a full chapter on sustainable design and how to become Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified.

Khan's concluding chapters discuss design and space planning. A key element for any construction project is the need to make the new facility pleasing to inhabit yet still efficient and serviceable. The amount of space needed for each function and the ways these spaces should relate to one another will be a major point of discussion between the library staff and the architect. Again, Khan offers a useful form that can be used to describe the space, technology, furniture, and other design needs of each functional area. He provides several diagrams illustrating shelving heights and aisle space requirements. This information is critical for planning, and Khan's data are a good start but, for comprehensive diagrams, readers will want to consult Leighton et al.'s exhaustive analysis [2] or Lushington's detailed chapters on the needs of each service area in the library [3]. Woodward's more reasonably priced book also provides in-depth looks at furnishings, flooring, lighting, security, and technological requirements [4].

Khan includes a lengthy bibliography aimed at an international authence. Links are included for items that are available online. Citations are very current with 75% of the recommendations written in the 21st century. Also included is a glossary of regularly encountered construction terminology that is somewhat slanted to a UK perspective but still useful for North American librarians.

Library planning and construction books aimed at health sciences and special libraries are in short supply. While much of the advice in Khan's book is relevant to any type of library, medical librarians might find books by Connor [5] or Mount [6] are helpful for suggestions that are particular to specialized collections. Connor provides case studies of thirteen academic or hospital library buildings and renovations from the United States and Canada. Along with photographs of the completed buildings, the book offers many practical suggestions. Connor's book would be especially useful for medical librarians who are planning renovations. Mount's book, though dated, provides a lengthy annotated bibliography that is specific to special library buildings.

No single book is adequate for something as important and expensive as a new library building or a major renovation project. Although all chapters are extremely brief, the author meets his goal by providing current, basic considerations and resources for librarians who are new to the building process. His strong emphasis on solid planning and the need for future flexibility provides lessons that are applicable to any building project. Khan provides a nice overview of the general building process, but because of the cost, general library slant, and UK perspective, this will be a marginal purchase for most North American health sciences library collections. However, librarians in the United Kingdom may find it a welcome addition to the scarce literature in this area.


1. McCarthy RC. Managing your library construction project: a step-bystep guide. Chicago, IL: American Library Association; 2007.

2. Leighton PD, Weber DC, Metcalf KD. Planning academic and research library buildings. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: American Library Association; 1999.

3. Lushington N. Libraries designed for users: a 21st century guide. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman; 2002.

4. Woodward JA. Countdown to a new library: managing the building project. Chicago, IL: American Library Association; 2000.

5. Connor E, ed. Planning, renovating, expanding, and constructing library facilities in hospitals, academic medical centers, and health organizations. Binghamton, NY: Haworth; 2005.

6. Mount E, ed. Creative planning of special library facilities. New York, NY: Haworth; 1988.

DOI: 10.3163/1536-5050.98.1.022

Author affiliation:

Tina Neville, MLS,, University of South Florida St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg, FL

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