Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



Case: Malmø City Library


The City Library located in Slotsparken on Regmentsgatan is Malmö's main library. With its 14,000 m2, it is the largest public library in the Nordic countries in terms of area. The library consists of two parts that are joined together: John Smedberg's historicist building, ‘The Castle’, which was actually built as a museum, but which was converted into a City Library in 1946. In 1997, the new part, which was designed by Henning Larsen, was inaugurated. It consists of two parts: ‘The Calendar of Light’, a large cubic building with a glass facade towards the park, and ‘The Cylinder’, which connects the two buildings and serves as entrance with a cafe etc. Since the inauguration, the library has worked as a sort of iconic library by virtue of its size and many innovative activities. 

A city library in a multicultural city

As a city, Malmö has a distinctive multicultural profile. 38 per cent of the 300,000+ inhabitants are first- or second-generation immigrants. 150 different languages are spoken in the city, distributed across 170 nationalities. Furthermore, half of the population is younger than 35 years, and there are 45,000 children below the age of 12. Several areas in the city are of a ghetto character, including Rosengården, which has more than 20,000 inhabitants. Over the last couple of decades, the city has also changed from being distinctively an industrial city to having a clearer profile as a culture and education city, featuring, among other institutions, Malmö University.

Important approaches in connection with re-design

In recent years, the library has been re-designed with an emphasis on the creation of experience spaces that invite people to stay at the library and make use of other offers apart from borrowing materials. Although lending of fiction went up by 11 per cent in 2011, and children's borrowing went up by 21 per cent, the rest of the lending of printed materials has dropped significantly.

The main idea of the re-design is to make ‘The Castle’ an area for facts, learning, novelties and debate. Whereas the space used to be crammed full of bookcases, it now features study places, seating of different kinds and a small stage with room for events for 70 participants. ‘The Calendar of Light’ is imbued with ‘open space’ – it has become the setting for fiction, music, film, TV games, art and architecture. The change into an experience space here has also been achieved by placing a large part of the bookcases on wheels so that the hall can be converted into a performance space with room for 650 participants.

The Calendar of Light at Malmö City Library, culture hall and library in one. Photo: Malmö City Library

This approach has been followed by growing programme and events activity with the ‘International Writer's Stage’ as the flagship. The International Writer's Stage collaborates with many parties. Malmö City Theatre is a permanent partner for practically all events. The Stockholm Culture Centre is another important partner as is the Royal Library in Copenhagen. Finally, close collaboration with publishers is a corner stone for ‘International Writer's Stage’.

Paul Auster sets a new audience record at the City Library's International Writer's Stage. Photo: Malmö City Library

Balagan – the children's library

Balagan is Malmö City Library's new physical and digital place for 9-12-year-olds, which has been created in a process that has included more than a hundred children from the target group in collaboration with an interior designer and a newly qualified interaction designer. Balagan was designed with a view to shielding children against behaviour regulation from other users of the library. It is laid out close to the heart of the library with access from the central traffic area, but at the same time, it constitutes an independent spatiality. 

People must remove their shoes before they enter. The beginning of the barefoot zone is clearly marked by a floating room divider. However, the intention is to exercise only a minimum of regulation. According to the librarian, it can get a bit noisy when many children use Balagan at the same time, but the space offers many possibilities for seeking out small spaces within the large. Learning and play are inseparable, and it is therefore permitted to climb on the bookcases.

The children at Balagan come from many different cultural backgrounds. In order to create recognisability and ensure that everybody sees their own culture represented, a special room dedicated to quiet concentration or reading aloud in small groups includes a section where children can read texts on the ceiling from books in their mother tongues among hundreds of texts in other languages.

The design and services of Balagan are very much based on dialogue with the children – the library's users. As a spatial and design-related example of how great emphasis Balagan places on this dialogue, ‘The Ministry’ has been set up. This is a special space where important wishes and needs that the children might have in connection with their Balagan can be discussed and new wishes and needs can be phrased. A space at the table is open to anyone who wishes to get involved. 

Lifelong learning at Lärcentrum

The City Library's Lärcentrum (Learning Centre) is a project that is to support lifelong learning on the users' terms. The goal is first and foremost to provide physical settings and guidance for learning. Emphasis has been placed on good IT facilities and long opening hours seven days a week, as well as manning by librarians and educators.

The Learning Centre collaborates with adult education offers and various educational institutions, but it is intended to be, and works as a free centre for all. On average, the Centre has about 200 users per day. Typical activities include information search, web surfing, printing of documents, writing of CVs and preparation of job applications as well as actual study work.

However, the Learning Centre also invites the business community in. Open Office is about inviting local companies to use the library as a workspace for a limited period of time and opening up for dialogue with the library's other users of the Learning Centre. Local companies are offered the possibility of establishing a temporary workplace under the auspices of the Learning Centre, which can work as both a test bed and a creative workshop.

The Learning Centre's PC workstations are very popular and used for all kinds of purposes. Photo: Malmö City Library

The transition zone – the space between library and city

One element in the library's strategy for the physical space is to ‘expand the meeting space’ by increasing opening hours and extending the library space out into the park that surrounds the library and ‘in the hearts of the users’ by creating greater participation and more involvement. The goal is wider and increased usage, avoiding that the library becomes a niche offer for a minority, but instead a truly broad and gathering enterprise for the entire city.

The transition zone is an area outside the library in the park Slotsparken, which the library works with as an extension of the library, including a playground, a meeting place, facilities for outdoor events etc. Events such as parkour attracted more than 2,000 participants both outside and inside the library with displays of skills such as tricking, break dance, parkour and free running. The transition zone is a high-priority activity, but as yet it has not been developed to the extent that the concept contains potential for.

18. Sep 2017 at. 13:39

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