Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



Case: Aalborg Main Library


Aalborg Main Library in Denmark is an early and highly successful example of how a library building can be used in urban development. The library is also a good case that demonstrates how you can work with the library's spaces in a continual process.

The starting signal for the library was given in the 1970s, shortly after Aalborg had become a university city. The building was the first step in the harbour area conversion, which is now almost complete, 30 years later, featuring the Nordkraft culture centre, the Music Hall and the Utzon Centre in addition to the library.

With its groundbreaking solutions, the construction of the library set a new standard for public libraries in Denmark. The library's main space is intended an open square surrounded by ‘shops’ with varying profiles. This structuring principle has proved to be long-lasting, and after several modifications and continual updating of the library space, it remains the main principle in the library's design.                                                                           

The library in the urban space

The building was placed between Nørregade and Nytorv in Aalborg. A number of bus lines were re-routed, and Nytorv was carried through to Østerbro as a bus street under a part of the library. This placed the library right next to the city's main traffic junction and the busiest pedestrian street. Rendsburggade, which links Nytorv and Nørregade, became a part of the building, featuring a glass covering, so that the library has entrances on both streets. The construction of the library changed part of Aalborg's city centre, eradicated a slum district, and turned Nørregade into a vibrant street with an open square in front of the library where events and performances often take place. The library has been renovated and modified in several stages.

Most recently, a project from 2016 aims to embellish the urban space in the arcade between Rendsburggade and Nørregade. The purpose is to create a greener and more welcoming setting. In April, new lighting was installed to create atmosphere and a sense of safety. In May 2016, a new feature was created with an avenue tree in the open square and five large flower containers with high trellis walls to be covered by climbing green plants.

The library as an open square

The main concept for the library is to allow the large library hall, which visitors come into straight from the entrance area, to appear as an open square, surrounded by two-storey galleries that have the character of shops.

The large library hall at Aalborg Main Library. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

This concept is emphasised by large glass sections and overhead light, by the walls that are made of reddish-brown bricks like house facades, and by the galleries with ‘windows’ that face the open square. This makes the idea of the library as an agora stand out very clearly. The facades in the covered Rendsburggade have the same appearance as the library's interior, which extends the public space from the street into the library.

As an old central library, the library has a considerable book and media collection, which originally occupied the open square. In order to make space for a more open and proactive presentation of the materials, free access to the library's stores has been established via an open staircase to the basement in the middle of the open square.

The idea of delimiting spaces according to content and communication has consistently been implemented in both the adult library and the children's library, and the library works strategically with exposure within common themes that are given different angles at selected spots around the library. Each theme is extended to the city and local libraries in order to create a common golden thread and solid exposure of a current topic. Each year, the library works with four large themes, two of which are a part of a thematic collaboration among the Danish libraries. The topics are selected in collaboration with large central partners. 

THE OASIS – The thematic exhibition ‘Women’. Exhibition without materials. Photo: Siri Renée Richter Jungersen.

Materials are not directly displayed in the collection; instead, certain relevant spots are selected for presentation, either vertically or horizontally. The exhibitions are to stimulate several senses, and therefor props, screens, sounds and light form a natural part of the exhibitions. They may, to some extent, be experimental and provocative and without materials.

THE PULSE – Display of young adult books on tilted shelves. The ‘Front cover forward’ principle. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

Many spaces with different profiles

A number of special areas mark the library's layout.

THE ZONE presents a wide selection of the media that have been purchased. THE ZONE is located in the open square and mixes media according to the serendipity principle: The visitor should have the opportunity to stumble on something interesting that he or she was not really looking for. This is why THE ZONE includes not only bestsellers, but also non-fiction as well as narrower fiction and several different media types. THE ZONE includes about 2 % of the library's materials, but accounts for 10 % of the lending.

THE ZONE – Materials available for 2-week loan presented in accordance with the 'Front cover forward' principle. Photo: Siri Renée Richter Jungersen.

The adult library also has a number of areas that stand out as independent spaces. A number of spaces are defined by the scholarly content of the materials, but there are also spaces that invite people to join special activities.

THE CRIME SCENE – This is where thrillers and adventure novels are located. In the background, the collection is displayed on tilted shelves. Thematic exhibition spot with several effects. Foil on windows and floor, various props, sound spot and screen that communicates the message. From the theme ‘Innovation’. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

The Pulse

THE PULSE is a 520-m2 area, which is used a lot by Aalborg's many students, among others. It is all go here, but there is also room for relaxation and being cosy. In May 2016, a new entrance was added to the library facing Aalborg's pedestrian street, Nørregade. In this connection, the interior design of THE PULSE and its functions were modified. In April 2016, a new modern customised concrete floor was put down. A circle pattern was edged into the concrete floor, which was subsequently varnished. It can support heavy bookcases, sustain heavy usage, and scratches and wear do not show. The collection has been packed tightly at one end of the room in order to create a more open, light and welcoming view when visitors enter via the new entrance. New functions have moved in, featuring a board and arcade games area.

THE PULSE – before and after photos from the re-design in April 2016. Photos: Peter Søholm Simonsen and Siri Renée Richter Jungersen.

THE PULSE – Island with visitor PCs and different types of worktables. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

THE PULSE – Welcome square with THE ZONE bookcases and thematic exhibition spot. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

THE PULSE – The arcade games have moved from the CHILDREN's section and the area is stressed by the Pac Man wall. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

THE STAGE offers films, music, its own cinema and performances for small audiences (about 50 people), while larger events, debate meetings, popular writers' meetings and similar events are placed in the common square or in the library's hall. THE STAGE is to be completely reinvented in connection with a rethink of the future music offer. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

THE LABORATORY – which has IT as its key element, offers learning, teaching and an IT collection. Teaching also takes place in many other contexts and locations. Photo: Siri Renée Richter Jungersen.

The (almost) book-free children's library

Several years back, the library opted to respond to the change in children's media habits by re-designing the children's library based on children's media preferences. This led to the creation of ‘The (Almost) Book-free Children's Library’, which became a succes de scandal because the great number of children's books were stored densely in an open basement. The basement is well equipped for avid readers, while the open areas on the ground floor were developed to involve children, featuring a games zone, a Wii place, a mini cinema, a play zone and a visible homework café. The children's library is also divided into sections for the youngest children and those who are slightly older. Again, the idea of having different spaces and zones with different appeal and target groups is crucial: A Games Zone, The Cave for parents with young children, The Imaginarium.

There is also a playroom and a homework cafe. During the period 2009-2011, the library was used as a studio for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation's TV channel Ramasjang, which transmitted live from the children's library. In step with developments in society, new trends and needs emerge among our visitors. The library constantly aims to adjust the interior design so that it remains abreast of trends and developments. The children's library is next on the list of interior design projects, and in September 2016, the library will present an entirely new children's library profile with a focus on collaboration with schools and institutions – and a layout that supports this.

CHILDREN – Atrium courtyard designed for quiet in-depth reading. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

CHILDREN – Exploratorium designed for workshops and birthdays, with non-fiction books displayed in accordance with the ‘Front cover forward’ principle. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

CHILDREN – The Imaginarium is designed for free play, where the only limit is the imagination. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen.

Staff competence development

Both the project Den Tredje Vej (The Third Way) and later on, ‘The (Almost) Book-free Children's Library’ were turning points that led to a good clear-out and space being created for other communication forms. The collaboration with the Danish Broadcasting Corporation about Ramasjang enhanced this. But it was not until the project Biblioteket i Værtensklasse (World-class Library Hosting) was launched that the staff's role in communication was addressed in earnest through the combined library offers. This project experimented with new facilitator roles with inspiration from the tourism industry and retail trade. A new idiom was also adapted to apply contemporary terms for e.g. the citizens who visit the library. They are now called visitors and along the same lines, the facilitators have become hosts.

This change in the organisation's mindset means that today, the staff has a much more pro-active and directly communicative role, and that they are initiators and co-players in relation to the visitors. Service forms that match the visitors' different needs are systematically developed. The staff wears uniforms to make it clear who is available to help during serviced opening hours. Signage makes it clear, in a welcoming host-like way, when the library is in self-service mode. Aalborg Main Library is open from 8:00 to 21:00 every day; from 10:00 to 19:00 (11:00 to 14:00), the library is serviced.

28. Feb 2018 at. 12:43

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