Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



Idea Stores: A revised library concept

Idea Stores in London have broken away from the traditional library concept. Instead they promote themselves as stores, that wish to engage, empower and enrich the users. With their central locations and vast services the Idea Stores play an important part in improving a socially burdened district.


The Idea Stores in London is something more than classic public libraries and learning spaces. Besides traditional library functions the Idea Stores offer a broad range of educational facilities for adults, career coaching, meeting places, cafés, art, culture, and leisure-time activities. There are five Idea Stores in London and all five are located in the district of Tower Hamlet in the eastern part of London. The district is characterized by social housing with a great ethnical diversity. Before the Idea Stores were built the area already had quite a few libraries, but the problem was that around 80 % of the locals did not use them. Against this background a large user study was conducted and among other things the results highlighted that 98 % of the respondents wanted to use the libraries but they demanded modern libraries of better quality with convenient opening hours and central locations. Based on these results a new library concept was developed.

A new concept

After two years of close collaboration with locals a new concept was created. To a higher degree the concept is based on user participation with lifelong learning and access to information as key elements. The three key concepts of the Idea Stores are engage, empower and enrich, which means that the Idea Stores wish to attract and retain (engage) new users through new innovative ways. When engaged it is the staff’s job to listen to the needs of the users and facilitate active participation (empower). Open, flexible spaces with a relaxed atmosphere, varied activities and comfortable whereabouts contribute to an enriched experience. Behind the Idea Store concept is a wish to make lifelong learning and knowledge accessible to everybody, because learning and knowledge facilitate education and eventually a well-paid job. This way the Idea Stores can contribute to changing and improving a socially burdened district. The Idea Stores offer over 800 classes in everything from dance, art and cooking to IT for seniors and young people, language courses and other educational courses.

All five Idea Stores have a central, convenient location to ensure easy access for the users. For instance Idea Store Whitechapel is located nearby a well-attended market and a tube station and this way it is easy for the users to combine errands like shopping with a visit to the Idea Store.

Informal meeting places

One of the challenges has been to break down the user’s physical as well as mental barriers towards libraries. Consequently the Idea Stores are called Idea Stores instead of libraries because the word “library” has a discouraging effect on some of the users. At the same time the Idea Stores have aimed at creating informal, relaxed meeting places by for instance introducing the “No Rules”-rule, which means that no rules dictate the users’ behaviour. The staff of the Idea Stores are convinced that the users will treat the Idea Stores, the furniture and fellow-users with respect, because they see the Idea Stores as their own. And in spite of scepticism it works.

Another initiative intended to create a comfortable atmosphere and overcome the user’s barriers of the traditional library is the location of the helpdesk.  At Idea Store Bow, for instance, the helpdesk no longer has a central location in the middle of the room. Instead it has been moved to a corner of the entry area to make room for a café.

At Idea Store Bow the helpdesk no longer has a central location in the middle of the room. Instead it has been moved to a corner of the entry area to make room for a café. This way a relaxed atmosphere with an informal meeting place is created.

Inspiration from the retail business

The Idea Stores is based on the Retail Model, which means, that the Idea Stores are inspired by the retail business. To a great extent the design and communication of the Idea Stores resemble the shops’ with visible signposting inside and outside. The way the books are presented resembles the bookstores as the staff creates exhibitions and displays the front cover of the books as much as possible and these initiatives create airy and well-arranged shelves.  The opening hours of the Idea Stores resemble the shops as well. Thus the users can easily access the Idea Stores due to expanded, flexible opening hours.

Staff do not necessarily have a library professional background. Instead they are recruited based on their qualifications, attitude and personality. To create close ties between users and staff, the staff are recruited from the local area as often as possible. This way it is easier for the users to relate to the staff. Like some parts of the retail business, staff wear uniforms. This way they are easily recognized and readily accessible. The Idea Stores are based on seamless service, which implies that all staff members have knowledge of all activities and all parts of the Idea Store they work at. Also, staff members daily circulate in-house between the different parts of the Idea Store to gain knowledge about all parts of the service.

20. Sep 2017 at. 14:48

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