Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



From serviced to self-serviced library

All of Aalborg's libraries, Denmark, are unmanned during parts of the opening hours. Based on this, the libraries have been turned into visitors' spaces. In the following, you can read about the interior design measures that facilitate the transition from serviced to self-serviced library.

Keeping the library open outside manned opening hours is about more than just leaving the doors open. It is, in fact, a radically different library offer, which calls for the interior design to be adapted to a higher degree for the many unmanned hours. This case is particularly useful as inspiration for working strategically with 'the self-serviced library' within a budget to design an interior that is adapted for both manned and unmanned opening hours. Read more about how to transform libraries on a small budget here in the text about Vesthimmerland, Denmark.

Recognisable basic interior design as a part of a new concept

The overall strategic work with the interior design of the open libraries in Aalborg has been based on a standardised basic interior design, which, for instance, uses just one type of furniture. This ensures that visitors experience a sense of recognisability, regardless of which library they visit. If furniture is no longer to be used at one library, it may fit in at one of the others. This also means that the libraries can save money on the acquisition of new furniture. Some of the design colours are local, while others are used throughout all five open libraries. 

The recognisability is evident in the graphical design line and in the signage. Each of the libraries used to have its own individual signage system, which resulted in great differences in terms of detailing level and standard. Today, all of the libraries follow the same general principles. Many visitors use more than one library, and the uniform signage enhances the recognisability across the libraries. Read more about the standardisation of the graphical design line in this case about Grøndalstorv Library, Denmark, which is one of the five open libraries in Aalborg.

The signs at the libraries feature two consistent colours: red for children and black for adults.

Old picture book containers have been reconditioned by having a red front panel added.

At the transition to the 'open library', it was important to convey to the visitors that they could only get help from the staff during manned opening hours. An information banner was therefore made for the service points during the unmanned opening hours. The banner has gradually changed character and now serves as a welcome when the staff are not present. This is why the banners now feature photos of local staff.

These pictures show the development from the first welcome banner in 2011 to the most recent from 2016.

Exposure and materials

As the libraries are 'home alone' for a significant part of the opening hours, it is not possible to continually fill up with materials in the exposure places. In order to avoid that visitors are met by empty shelves and bookends, Aalborg Libraries have aimed to create an appropriate balance between collection and exposure. Exposure has therefore been limited to certain areas: the Zone, angled shelves and the exhibition spot.


Almost half of the material stock has been scrapped, partly in order to reduce the handling of materials. Having fewer materials has also made it possible to use the bookcases in new ways. The bookcases have been cut down, so that they only measure 160 cm in height now. This provides a better view across the library space for visitors and helps create a sense of safety during the unmanned opening hours.

Exposure and prioritisation of the Zone

The distinctive exposure of materials happens in the Zone, which has a prominent place in the welcome area at all of Aalborg's libraries. The principle behind the materials in the Zone is serendipity – visitors can find both new and popular titles, but also more obscure and narrow literature. All materials in the Zone are available as 14-day loans, they cannot be reserved, and they were published within the last 18 months. Thrillers, non-fiction and fiction are intermingled in the displays.

The Zone.

Materials are not exposed in the actual collection at the end of each shelf in the open library. Instead, horizontal 'ribbons' have been created in the collection. Exposure is achieved by means of vertical sections with sloping shelves. The decision to present materials in this way was based on studies from the retail trade about how the eye forms an overview. This set-up also serves as a shelf end when visitors look along the bookcases.

Exposure by means of 'shelf ends' in the collection.

Drop-in and meeting place

The interior design has also given high priority to getting a lot of seating into the libraries, so that they can also be used by students and visitors who want to read newspapers and journals, or who just need a place to sit whilst using their laptops. During unmanned opening hours, it feels safe to enter a room where there are other visitors. Aalborg Libraries are therefore very pleased that the libraries are being used by many students. The table layout is flexible and can easily be adapted to meet different needs – e.g. in relation to specific activities held in the library space.

Exhibition spot

In addition to the Zone, each individual library has an exhibition spot for exposure of materials. The spot contains materials, but other effects are also used at the exhibition spot, e.g. banners and screens, in order to attract visitors' attention. The task of preparing the exhibition spot is centralised due to the reduced staff hours at the libraries. A cross-disciplinary group is in charge of changing the exhibitions at the libraries about every two months. Depending on the theme, many of the exhibitions are used across the different libraries. As the libraries have many unmanned opening hours, the exhibition spot is an important source of inspiration for the visitors.

Focus on visitors

Adapting one-space libraries to many different target groups and needs is not without challenges. In connection with the project 'Hosting at open libraries', Aalborg Libraries have focused on how the library can accommodate more needs. Observation studies have shown that 44 % of the visitors are so-called 'drive-in visitors': They are characterised by brief visits where they quickly do what they have come for and then leave again. Some 33 % were 'library enthusiasts': This group stays longer at the library, roaming around the collection or settling down to read a journal. Many visitors are both, i.e. they make both kinds of library visits depending on time and needs.

'Life and Activity' is placed at the front end of the open libraries to enable the 'drive-in visitor' to complete all his/her errands here. This area contains the self-service machines, reservations, the Zone and – wherever possible – the children's area. Due to the clear layout and the low bookcases, the 'drive-in visitors' get a view down through the library space, even if they only use the first part of the library. With this in mind, the exhibition spot is placed so that it can be seen from the entrance.

The area for 'Quiet Contemplation' is placed at the rear end of the library, focusing on the 'library enthusiast'. The area contains the collection, PCs and seating – in the form of both study desks and soft furniture. The service point is located in the borderland between the two areas.

Focusing on these two target groups, Aalborg Libraries have adjusted the interior design and divided all of the libraries into two areas: 'Life and Activity' and 'Quiet Contemplation'. You can see an example of how this division is implemented in practice in this text about Grønlandstorv Library.

The space that used to contain reserved materials at Hasseris Library has now been converted into a cosy reading corner.

18. Sep 2017 at. 14:10

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