Public Library Safety & Security Toolkit

Calgary Public Library


Space Design

Space influences how welcoming the library is – think about the colour of paint on the walls, the lighting, the windows, the presence of tables, chairs, and comfortable seating, and a mix of areas designed more for one person versus groups of people. Space also influences safety and security in libraries. Space is an important component of the toolkit because the physical experience of staff and patrons influences how people act and interact when in the library. Space influences things like who-sees-what and who can be seen; the degree of privacy library users and staff can expect, the distance between library staff and between library users; the amount of time required to travel between destinations in the library; the degree of control the library has over how many people enter the library at one time, etc.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) aims to reduce crime and enhance public safety by designing and managing the physical environment in a way that discourages criminal behaviour through measures such as increasing visibility and natural surveillance, minimizing opportunities for crime through site design, and creating a sense of ownership and community involvement in the space.

Where Space Design Fits in the Library Journey
Space design is relevant at all stages of the library journey.

Key Considerations

Things to consider when designing spaces include:

  • When to Implement the Space Design-Related Decisions – Major elements of space design relevant to safety and security can be incorporated when building new spaces and when renovating existing spaces. Significant improvements can also be made by adjusting existing spaces to support key considerations like better sightlines, fixed and/or more durable seating, etc.
  • Where to Implement – Space design relates to several different aspects of space in the library. Safety and security can be influenced by design decisions about things like:
    • Sight lines, with an effort to avoid blind corners or creating spaces that don’t provide “eyes” on the space.
    • The number of entrances to the library, recognizing that fewer are easier to control.
    • Placement and height of shelving.
    • Placement of staff service points, with an effort to site them closer to where incidents may arise. For example, are staff typically located at or near a service point or are they consistently roving throughout the building with support tools (e.g., tablets, phones).
    • The configuration of washrooms, including the opportunity to remove the requirement for a door, moving to universal washrooms, and limiting single stall washrooms.
    • Study rooms are all glass or built with glass doors to ensure sight lines into the space.
    • Distance computer workstations from each other to avoid users getting into each other’s personal space.
    • Lighting audits to ensure visibility in the space.
    • Adding passive and mediated programming to animate spaces.
    • Shaping traffic flow with furniture. Couches and other lounging placed within easy view of service desks. Single occupant furniture is preferred. Remove furniture form “hidden nooks” and move into more easily monitored spaces.
    • Sound baffling absorbs some sounds and can reduce volumes in spaces with higher noise levels.
    • Avoid hostile design elements such as slanted or sectioned benches.
  • Where to Ask for Help – There are experts in environmental design that can help inform space design decisions.

Examples & Templates

Kitchener Public Library

The Kitchener Public Library conducted a CPTED assessment which led to several recommendations that identified opportunities for natural surveillance and access control, including:

  • Turning library stacks perpendicular to the public corridor and circulation desk.
  • Installing a large mirror on the blank corridor wall opposite the circulation desk.
  • Rearranging the study carrels from an unbroken, continuous row of units located at the end of the book stacks to a series of strategically placed, independent units that maximized natural surveillance of the aisles in the newly arranged stacks.
  • Designating the secondary, rear stairwell as a fire route so that the door could be signed as a fire exit in the closed position, which requires patrons to use the main door and walk past staff areas.

Edmonton Public Library

As an example, the Edmonton Public Library conducted a study of their Sprucewood Branch in 2023 resulting in several concerns being identified and recommendations related to Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) being developed in response. Concerns included things like frequent loitering around the property, aggressive behaviour that is unpredictable towards staff, frequent and increased needle and substance use in and around the building, inappropriate use of the bathroom facilities, individuals going into staff only and non-public areas, individuals sleeping in the front entry, and bike theft. Highlights of the CPTED recommendations include:

  • Converting large open spaces into areas of positive animation through things like creation of a garden that also engages the community in activities, installation of benches or garden boxes, which can also be used to control flow of people coming and going from the building.
  • Moving bike racks to the front of the building.
  • Keeping areas well maintained and working with adjacent properties to encourage them to do the same. A well maintained property makes it easier to identify when something is out of the ordinary.
  • Locking of dumpsters.
  • Opaque covering of some windows, where suitable (e.g., alongside children’s program room).
  • Relocation of the staff interior space to improve sightlines.
  • Open concept washrooms, with gaps at the bottom and tops of doors. A washroom attendant is also an option.

Toronto Public Library

The Toronto Public Library thinks about safety and security through a detailed design process for branches.This includes open sightlines, placement of shelving, height of shelving, and placement of staff service points with respect to potential “trouble” areas (e.g., washrooms, stairwells, emergency exits, entrances, study rooms, public workstations,and other areas where potential incidents may arise). More specifically:

  • TPL has developed standards for height of shelving. Shelves in children’s areas are 52” high and anywhere else that reduced height can be accommodated. When necessary, shelves are capped at 67”.
  • TPL washrooms are also designed with safety in mind. With the exception of single use/family washrooms, TPL builds multi-stall washrooms that are configured not to require a door.
  • Cameras are installed throughout the library at key points. Study rooms are all glass or built with glass doors to ensure sightlines into the space. Efforts are made to avoid blind corners or creating spaces that do not provide the ability to have “eyes” on the space.
  • Based on data gathered through review of incident reports, TPL now designs computer workstations that are distanced from each other to avoid creating situations where customers getting into each other’s personal spaces.
  • In terms of process, TPL reviews the branch layout with the branch head and with branch staff to capture input and potential concerns staff may have with the layout and incorporate the feedback into the design.

Winnipeg Public Library

Winnipeg Public Library transformed a former coffee shop in the lobby of the downtown Millennium Library into Community Connections, a space where visitors can connect with information and social services to support their basic needs. The space applies anti-oppressive, trauma-informed and harm reduction principles. Visitors can meet with the library’s Community Crisis Workers and library staff. Plus, they can connect with visiting community agencies and organizations that also provide services in the space.