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Thame Library bookshelves and reading table

Public Library Design Case Study: Thame Library

The first new library built in the County for 20 years meant expectations were high at Thame for the library service and politicians as well as the local community.

Opening the Book was involved in the feasibility study to locate the library in the historic town hall but plans then changed to use a former retail unit. Rather than pastiche the historic surroundings, Oxford Architects designed an ultra-modern building to make a bold statement. The County Council was looking for strong interior design to match.

Opening the Book was contracted to design the interior as part of a 4-year Framework Agreement with Oxfordshire County Council. There was much discussion of how best to spread the activities across the ground floor and mezzanine with the conclusion that children’s, most adult books and a laptop/magazine relaxation area would be on the ground floor with quiet study, local history and also teens on the first floor. Computers are split across both floors and intermingled with the books.

The staff planned to manage through time as well as space so children’s events could spill into the adult area and mezzanine study tables could host a local community group meeting in the evening. This was also the county’s first library to use RFID self-service and Opening the Book worked closely with staff to prepare for that.

Community consultation

Opening the Book met with local residents in different venues to explore aspirations. At the large town meeting most of the audience were older retired people and we expected some opposition to giving the best mezzanine space to teenagers. Opening the Book presented the library design as meeting the needs of the next generation and every white-haired person present gave enthusiastic support to creating better resources for young people in their town.

Thame Library
Oxfordshire County Council


To meet a wide range of audience needs in a relatively small footprint and to match the high expectations of a community who had campaigned for a new library for 20 years.


Clearly zoned areas which offer different experiences within a confident, flowing layout which creates a sense of space.

RFID and self-service meant a whole new way of working for us, and we were very concerned about how it would change the way we engage with our customers. But it turned out to be straightforward and easy to use, and we are still meeting our customers as we fill the Quick Choice shelves.

Lesley Horrocks Thame Library Manager
The design

The view in from the street is enticing with a Reading Hideaway clearly visible and as soon as you step inside you can see what’s on offer. The entrance has plenty of space to browse the quick choice tables and to use the self-service. The darker area at the back under the mezzanine has a full-height curved display wall with retail-style lightboxes to showcase non-fiction. The glazed conservatory-style space is a relaxation area for browsing magazines and also has sockets in the seating for laptops and mobile devices. On the mezzanine the teen area has bar-height tables and funky sofas, together with lots of books. Shelving is used to divide the teens from the local history and quiet study area.

New ways of working

The library has been a tremendous success. 1000 new members joined in the first 6 months and the stock performance has been outstanding. The staff appreciate having good equipment to display books well and they prioritise keeping the shelves looking good. And while they are out on the floor topping up, they can also chat with customers. Thame has become the model across the county for new ways of working.


3 months in new library compared to same period in previous year

  • Adult issues up 70% of which non-fiction is up 117%
  • Children's issues up 114%
  • Audiovisual issues up 86%
  • Visits up 136% - 300 per day where it used to be 90 on a good day
  • At least one new customer joining every single day in the first year
  • 95% of all items that can go through self-service do
Looking down on Thame Library interior

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