More life at the library
The overall purpose of the public library continues to be defined – as it was 50 years ago – as “to promote information, education and cultural activity,” but in recent years, frameworks and resources have been changing radically. The development has gone from the classical librarian-controlled book library to a library concept that takes its starting point in the needs and interests of the citizens, and which organises offers and activities based on a far wider understanding of information than the classical general education concept.
In general terms, the trend is towards more life at the library through more programming, interplay with partners, use of volunteers and the citizens' own activities. For instance, 1,527 volunteers contributed their assistance with homework help, IT help, audio newspaper etc. in 2012, distributed across 59 of Denmark's libraries.
A multi-purpose building
Nowadays, the typical public library physically appears as a place where analogue materials take up a lot of space, but where there are many other options for use of the spaces. Libraries are designed to facilitate spaces and functional settings for different target groups and needs, from the quiet study cell and reading corner, open workspaces and newspaper and magazine reading zone, over sofa groups for conversation, group workspaces and rooms for meetings and common activities, to loud events or playing children. Designs include different forms of stages and cafe environments in settings based as much as possible on self-service. One overall objective is greater flexibility in the utilisation of the settings. The library is intended to be a public space with a personal dimension and great flexibility in terms of accommodating local needs.
Status: Fewer libraries – more activities
Whereas visitor numbers continue to go up, there are fewer physical libraries and fewer materials on the shelves. A slight drop in the lending of physical materials is more than countered by the rise in lending of digital materials.
Fewer libraries – more diverse needs
In 2012, the Danish public libraries had 560 ‘service places’ in Denmark, or about half of what was the case in 1990. Some of the now closed branch libraries were characterised by a certain level of specialisation in terms of layout, materials and activities. That is to say a special orientation towards certain, prioritised target groups or the public that used the specific branch library the most – or in other words, they were characterised by either a proactive or a reactive specialisation.
Today, the library landscape features fewer and generally larger libraries. They typically have more square metres at their disposal as well as more resources, but they also need to be able to hold a greater variety of user segments with different needs, behaviour and demands. Perhaps the greatest challenge in relation to space/function interplay at public libraries today is therefore to ensure a high level of adaptability in the spaces and the furniture and equipment available to the library, and to guide the many different users efficiently and unobtrusively to the experiences and activities that match their needs.
Use the library's 24-hour rhythm
All libraries have usage patterns, also in relation to time in the form of a 24-hour rhythm. With the demand for settings to be used optimally, increased attention should be directed at whether it is possible to increase utilisation and the citizens' use of the settings by means of a systematic support of the 24-hour rhythm through décor and activity planning. Ørestad Library works systematically at changing the library from being a school library in the morning to being a public library in the afternoon and a community centre in the evening. The means that are used to change the library's identity are material presentation, e.g. on the many screens, the setup of furniture and a simple layout, as well as the type of activities that take place at the library. It is also possible to work with lighting, colours and other visual effects.
There is a clear potential for most libraries to work on supporting the 24-hour rhythm. An imagined 24-hour rhythm might look like this:
In the morning, there are newspaper readers who want peace and quiet to read their papers and maybe have a cup of coffee. Later in the morning, kindergarten and day care children and minders arrive, actually representing two different target groups. The day care minders can use the library as a social and professional meeting place, while the kindergarten teachers can enjoy a change from the work with educational objectives, just as the library visit provides different opportunities for play. Maybe they are fortunate enough to visit on a day that features children's theatre or other entertainment. Many libraries have a special area where kindergarten children and teachers are allowed to eat their packed lunches or snacks.
Later in the morning, school classes may visit the library to be taught about information search.
Lunchtime, particularly at American libraries, is a time where people are invited to a debate event, or to eat their sandwiches while they listen to a reading, a brief talk or something similar. A corner of the library should be laid out for this particular purpose.
The early afternoon is still a time for schools to visit. However, this can also be an ideal time to place events for senior citizens, be that courses in iPad use, talks, reading clubs or similar.
From mid-afternoon through to closing hours, a wider circle of public library users arrive to borrow items or ask for help to resolve a search problem, ask for assistance about an IT problem or the like. This is also the time that is allocated to homework cafes as well as after-work meetings with varying content. This is where the widest scope and the greatest variety in use are seen.
The evening is open for meeting and community centre activities of different kinds. Tårnby Library collaborates with AOF Amager (Workers' Educational Association), which holds all its debate events and topical talks at the library's Rotunda with an average of 100 participants at each event. A number of musical events are also organised. Some of the Open Libraries have room for events that citizens are free to organise themselves. This is the case e.g. at Aarhus libraries, which run a comprehensive programme of activities at all of the municipality's 20 public libraries with a consistent reuse of ideas and events, but with a very high activity frequency as a result.
Strategic use of the patterns described here can be supported by the interior design, activity planning and marketing.
Easy access for users
Over the last couple of years, there has been a great focus on users in the cultural life. Libraries have also been participating for a number of years in new, dynamic relations with their users based on the motto ‘make it your library’. The extreme for this are the Open Libraries, i.e. periodically self-serviced libraries. When the library is open but without service, citizens are typically able to borrow materials, use computers and wireless networks, read newspapers and magazines, play, meet and organise their own activities to the extent that the settings allow for this.
The establishment of the Open Library has grown from 2010 until today from just a few libraries in Silkeborg and Aalborg municipalities to 183 across the country. The larger number of Open Libraries has meant that opening hours have expanded considerably. The number of opening hours per week has thus increased by 28.6 per cent from 2011 to 2012. In addition to this, an increasing number of public libraries work with ‘service spots’ where, for instance, users can collect materials at the local grocery shop. As of July 2012, there were 77 such services spots.
Move out where the users are
In continuation of this way of thinking, the library moves out-of-the-box when e.g. a beach library is set up at Amager Beach offering loans of magazines, MP3 players and beach toys, or when the Spot Mobile, a converted caravan, creates a new meeting room for Aarhus' young people, or when Library NorthWest converts a car park into an outdoor community centre.
And if the library goes to the beach, why should it not also travel long-distance? Since 2004, long-distance lorry drivers from Southern Jutland have been able to borrow audio books recorded on CD at their workplace. It is Bov Library that has collaborated with Padborg Transport Centre to open Denmark's first and only lorry driver library at IDS-Truckcenter, i.e. a place where the drivers come and go, and where borrowing is possible around the clock. When the initiative was launched in 2004, there was a great focus on language courses, but this has gradually changed. Today, all kinds of literature are welcomed. Bov Library makes the audio books available to the 600 regular borrowers, and the lorry driver library gets new books approx. every two weeks.
Make your own contribution via the Facebook group
If you have examples or ideas of how more life can be created at the libraries, or if you have comments to this article, please feel free to contribute via the Facebook group.15. Jun 2016 at. 10:59