Looking at Libraries: Defining Space Through Content

Libraries are filled with stories, adventures and information. Imagine all the books sitting untouched – their stories all hidden beneath their cover and tucked away on a shelf. Much like secrets waiting to be discovered and revealed.


Libraries hold secrets, adventures and knowledge – and yet the libraries observed felt stale and dull.

Goal: Use design to sense the magic and excitement in the library experience.

Classification systems

Classification systems (call numbers) are very complex and fascinating: a simple code revealing the book's title, authors, subject, cross-subjects and classification.
There are a few different systems – but I was most taken by the "Library of Congress Classification System" – a system using the first letter of the call number to classify every book into one of 21 general subject matters; this system very common and most often used in Academic libraries.

Special Feeling

The overwhelming visual of entering a room filled with an incredible number of books is very much part of the magic feeling I sought – that feeling is what makes the library environment so special.

The books themselves are where the secrets lay, sitting dormant, hidden in the stacks. Stories, excitement, knowledge, all tucked away waiting to be revealed. Realizing call numbers are codes for for each book's content, an opportunity arose. Call numbers are found on the labels placed on the book's spine.


Book covers are usually hidden, they are squashed between this book and that book, tucked away on shelves.

We are faced with book spines, rows upon rows of book spines. Bookshelves appear to be a mismatch of textures, typefaces and colours resulting in a camouflage of titles – making it very difficult to find the book you are seeking.

These book become identifiable through the tiny label with the book's call number. Curious how tiny and inconsistent the labels are, difficult to read and slapped on carelessly and out of alignment, making it difficult to scan through the numbers.

Content Defining Space

Colour-coding the call number subjects (there are 21 subjects in the Library of Congress Classification System) not only facilitates one's search for his or her section, but allows the books' content to "paint" the library walls.

Visitors will soon familiarize themselves with their favourite subject's colour. Interestingly, different libraries vary in the type of books they carry –no two library will have the same colouration.

The rainbow gradient works because the classification system is linear.

Design Features

The label's size leave's a preview of the book's spine and works with various widths. The information is stacked to accommodate both thin ad thick spines.

The call number is organized so the subject letter and numbers are separated – the numbers are stacked and align with the other books' labels – allowing one to find his number through a quick scan of the numbers.

A nice feature is having the book's full title along the side of the spine so it reveals itself with a slight tilt from the bookshelf.

The label is fastened to the spine (always lining up on the left side of the spine) so that the wrap be lifted to see the full cover design. Since this system is most often used in academic libraries I've made the citing information more accessible by including it on the label itself.