Reopening Strategies for Libraries Across Brooklyn

As the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) begins reopening libraries to the public, we helped them develop short-term strategies that address new safety and social distancing protocols.

Even as the pandemic caused BPL’s physical branches to close, the services they offer are needed now more than ever. Whether it’s supporting job searches through computer and wifi use, workforce development classes for adults, after-school activities for kids or community-building for the elderly—the library’s in-person services and spaces serve as vital social infrastructure for neighborhoods across Brooklyn.

Working in coordination with BPL’s carefully phased reopening plan, our work began planning for Phase 4, when libraries would open their interiors for browsing, seating, and reference desk services. We examined how to modify a range of library interior spaces for reopening.

In the lobby space, where check-out and drop-off take place, the sheer volume of book circulation and the tight quarters of typical branch lobbies pose a logistical and organizational challenge.

We proposed a tall, mobile shelving system combined with clearer wayfinding signage—which, together, increase capacity for these in-demand services without taking up limited floor space and also make it easier for patrons to follow library protocols.

Throughout the library interiors, we developed circulation paths and identified optimal locations for wayfinding signage that help the public safely navigate between browsing the stacks, checking out, reading/waiting areas and other key touchpoints.

The reference desk queue was an area of particular concern, and we proposed separating this line from other major circulation paths, as well as redistributing certain functions to other areas—such as laptop loan—to reduce the line.

At branches with high book circulation, we designated multiple check-out areas to avoid crowding. Patron seating is also rearranged to encourage social distancing and enhanced with outdoor seating options.

Overall, we used a modular approach and corresponding kit-of-parts system to address the needs of multiple branches quickly and cost-effectively. The system, adaptable to different locations, includes a range of partitions for acoustic and social distancing requirements, wayfinding components, and furniture to streamline book circulation and to help utilize outdoor spaces.

While our work to date has focused on a handful of sites, these strategies can be deployed over the next several months as additional locations move into the later stages of the Library’s reopening plan.


Brooklyn Public Library


Brooklyn, NY


Five branches