Circulation Desk Design: Important Factors to Consider

The circulation desk is the heart of the library. It’s where patrons come not only to check out books and return materials, but also to ask for help when they need it. In many cases, it’s also the first thing patrons see when they walk through the door–in other words, it’s your first impression!

Suffice it to say that choosing a circulation desk design is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when designing, arranging, or revamping your library. The design needs to be both functional and attractive while giving you easy access to all the resources your patrons might need. Let’s take a closer look at some of the main considerations you need to look at when choosing or designing a circulation desk, along with some helpful questions you can use as a point of reference.


One of the most important factors to consider when designing a library circulation desk is how well it enables you to serve visitors. The desk should be designed in such a way that it allows library staff to quickly and easily check out books and other materials for patrons. It should also be easy for patrons to return materials to the desk. Here are some key things to consider:

  • What is the ideal location for the desk? Depending on the size and orientation of your space, it might be best to place it at the library entrance, or possibly in the center of the library where people can easily find and access it.
  • Should the desk surfaces be desk height or standing height? Desk height is 29 or 32 in. and is best suited for staff who will be seated. Standing height is 39 inches and is best for staff who will be standing at the counter or using stool-height seating. On the customer side of the desk, you’ve got to consider whether patron ledges (also known as transaction tops) will be appropriate?
  • How many people will be working at the desk? How many computers will you need? How much room for seating?
  • Does the desk need an ADA station to accommodate patrons in wheelchairs? (In most applications nowadays, the answer will be yes.)
  • Will you be processing returns at the circulation desk, or somewhere else? Does the desk need a book return slot with a depressible book return truck inside the desk?
  • Depending on the location of the desk, are swing gates required?
  • Where are electrical and data ports placed? It will be important to design this area of the desk to have clear access to the floor box(es).

Of course, you’ll also need to think about how to store materials at the circulation desk. Most libraries opt for some type of open shelving, which allows staff members to easily grab whatever materials or forms they need. But there are other considerations, too, like where to put cash, bins for book returns, etc. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • Does the desk need a locking cash drawer? Will you be taking money at the desk? If so, will there be times when cash needs to be kept secure while the desk is unattended?
  • Do you prefer open storage shelves or locking cupboard storage cabinets (or both)? This will largely depend on what you’re using the desk for and whether items need to be kept under lock and key.
  • Are file drawers required? Will you need continued access to files and paperwork, or can these materials be stored in private offices?
  • What other type of equipment needs to be stored at or in the desk? Circulation desks often need room for items like a fax machine, printer, cash register, etc.) Make sure you’ve accounted for these in your desk dimensions.
  • Do you need any other type of storage in the desk? For example, do you require space for holds shelving or book trucks?
  • If you run a public library, do interlibrary loan book boxes need to be stored at the desk? If so, how many and what size?


Finally, you’ll want to consider the overall look and feel of the circulation desk and how it fits in with the rest of your library’s design. After all, looks matter! The desk should be inviting and welcoming, and it should convey the message that the library is a warm and friendly place. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What materials should you choose for the main desk construction? Natural wood is attractive, for example, but also more costly. Laminate offers more color/style combinations and is more affordable. What works best for your look and budget?
  • What materials should you choose for the countertop? Marmoleum, laminate, and solid surface are the most common options. Solid surface counters can be quite attractive and offer numerous options combining both natural and engineered materials, including granite, quartz, and Corian.
  • How should the front (i.e., customer-facing) part of the desk be designed? You could have it be plain and unassuming, you can have decorative wood or laminate designs, you can have floating acrylic signage…the options here are basically limitless.
  • Do you want the desk to have patron ledges and/or transaction tops? These are elevated ledges on the customer side of the desk. They serve both to create a convenient surface for patrons to write on and to provide a bit of a privacy barrier for the staff side of the desk.

As you can see, there is quite a bit to consider when choosing a circulation desk design–and to make matters even more confusing, there are hundreds of styles and designs from which to choose! But by answering as many of these questions early on, you can narrow your search down to only the best options for your library. At Creative Library Concepts, we have access to nearly unlimited options when it comes to circulation desks, and with these factors in mind, we can source a desk that is perfectly suited to your library’s style and needs. Reach out to us today to learn more.

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