Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



The Library's Users

The library presents jazz. Photo: Hans-Henrik Skou, the Demotheque

Whereas the classical library was characterised by transactional processes such as questions/answers and lending/returning, the new library is rather characterised by open, dynamic and relational processes. It is also becoming more difficult to set up a formula for the library's many functions – ‘one-size-fits-all’ no longer applies. The individual library's layout, functions and offers must be seen in relation to that particular library's surroundings and not least the target groups that it addresses. Below follows a brief outline of the roles that the library covers in relation to the five most important target groups.

Young children (aged 0-6) and their parents

Library visits have become a great hit among parents of young children. On Saturday afternoons, the new children's library at the Culture Yard in Elsinore is full of prams, playing toddlers and their parents who relax, read aloud or seek inspiration for picture books, games, music or other media to borrow. In Hjørring, a VIP corner for Very Important Parents is located in connection with the young children's area, with a sofa and information material for parents. In Tårnby, a nursing space has been set up next to a corner with dolls. Apart from supporting the relation between children and parents, the young children's library can be seen as an informal experience space with storytelling, play and learning as the focal point. The library supports the desire to read, media competences and language stimulation for both monolingual and bilingual children through reading aloud, drama workshops and computer games such as KidSmart, Lego's new child-friendly computer, which also contributes to social interaction and integration.

Around the libraries, many different ideas are being developed at the young children's library, for instance ‘the Grotto’ at the Rentemestervej Library, the multipurpose furniture element with the cave at Ørestad Library, the VIP lounge for Very Important Parents in Hjørring, and the play corner at Garaget in Malmö.

Older children (aged 7-12)

Older children consider the library a free space away from parents and teachers. It needs to be a place where they can hang out, be noisy, fight monsters in computer games along with others, chat on the Internet and do girlish things together in a ‘girls' cave’ (Tårnby). In order to achieve this, the library must be designed as a robust experience and meeting space, preferably at a distance / isolated from other zones. At the same time, the library should preferably support older children's search for knowledge in an updated edition of ‘the knowledge temple’, where they can delve deeply into books and other media in peace and quiet. There needs to be gaps for bookworms and listening places where you can lie down. Finally, the library can serve as a performative space, as at Balagan at Malmö City Library, which supports the 9-12-year-olds' storytelling abilities and their own creative activity through play with images, text and sound.

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.

Young people – the digital natives

The digital natives are the young people who have grown up with access to digital social media and with information being freely accessible in digital form, i.e. the generation born after 1980. They use computers, iPads and mobile phones in their search and mastery of the information flow. At the same time, as ‘prosumers’ they create and shape information and culture on the Internet by remixing digital products. To them, it is the content and not the technology that is important, and the learning process is based on trial-and-error. However, this is no guarantee that they possess the digital skills that are necessary in order to use the Internet and the virtual library's offers to the optimum. Here, the library can help improve the young people's literacy by making updated digital technologies and media available with librarians as digital media guides and mentors. In this connection, Ørestad Library is a state-of-the-art example.

Ørestad Library: Focus on interaction between the virtual and the physical space

In the actual interior design of the library, the young people require ‘cosiness’, i.e. opportunities for relaxing, but also room for studying with access to PCs, meeting tables for group work and study rooms in a relaxed atmosphere. The library is also to create space for co-creation. This happens, for instance, when libraries in Copenhagen use the Demotheque to support the DIY culture by making physical settings for production and stages available for the meeting between growth layers and the public. At the six libraries in Copenhagen, anyone with a creative vein is free to hand in anything they like, and this can then be borrowed by anybody who has a Danish National Health Service medical card. The purpose is to make the artistic underground accessible to all. In Sweden, where the project has run successfully over the last four years, they have 80 demotheques. So far, we only have demotheques in Denmark at the six libraries in Copenhagen, but here, books, films and music and other good things that are not all that easy to categorise are being submitted in great numbers.

Underground and library are not two words that are usually connected. However, you can safely do so in relation to the Demotheque. Photo:

At Hjørring Libraries, they have chosen to play on the library's sex factor, and in September 2012, the library opened its doors to about 600 young people in connection with the study start event ‘Date your Library’. The explanation for the great turnout might be the library's use of a commercial, which used efficient imagery to show all the things you can pick up at the library, e.g. free Internet, better marks, condoms, and not least: the one and only.

Hjørring Libraries play on the sex factor in their youth campaign.


Adults are the libraries' widest target group. The available surveys of adults' use of libraries show three main trends: More women than men, and more people with a higher education than people with a lower education use the library. And: Many children visit the libraries accompanied by adults. The most recent cultural habit survey maps the library use among the segments used by Gallup, among others. The result is that the modern community-orientated segment accounts for 20.9 % as opposed to the traditional individual-orientated segment, which accounts for 3.7 %. This contrast is key to the entire use of culture. If a development is to take place in the different segments' use of the library, more clearly profiled offers must be presented along with the offers that traditionally strong culture-using modern segments use.

More individual offers are needed. Reference: Trends in the Public Library Statistics and the Library Barometer 2011, July 2012

Senior citizens

Senior citizens are one of the large groups of users of the traditional library offer. They borrow books and read newspapers, but an increasing number have also used the libraries' continual offers of help with learning how to send emails, use their smartphones, send text messages and now also how to use tablets, onto which they can download e-books. The library's role as a learning centre is therefore important to this target group, which also to a great extent uses the places that provide citizen service for communication with public authorities. However, the library is also a meeting place for senior citizens. There are reading clubs and other regular meeting forums, and many libraries collaborate with Ældresagen and Ældremobiliseringen (Danish associations for the elderly), and offer courses and events along with the organisations. Roskilde Libraries have become a role model with their Age Force service, which is a social, web-based network that forms the starting point for all kinds of activities and meetings for the 50+ group.

Reflections from the vision group


Immigrants use the libraries more than ethnic Danes. Since guest workers first came to Denmark in the 70s, the libraries have given special consideration to this group's needs. They have done so by purchasing and getting hold of, in particular, books, newspapers and music in the immigrants' languages. However, the library has been used widely by the target group. Notable examples in areas with many immigrants include the newspaper reading area as a meeting place for men, and the widespread use of computers and guidance at the libraries. Libraries have also served as meeting places for clubs for children and young people, especially clubs for girls who are not allowed to go anywhere but to the school and the library. Many libraries in vulnerable residential areas have developed citizen centre functions with special efforts related to health, learning Danish, getting a mentor and finding a job. Citizen Service at the libraries first started in vulnerable residential areas where libraries made themselves available to help people understand letters from authorities and others, and it has developed from this into a broad-spectred integration-orientated programme.

Photo: Per Drustrup Larsen, Hjørring Libraries

Survey – How libraries deal with users

Danish public libraries experience that they have success with families with young children, adults and senior citizens. This is one of the results found in the Danish Agency for Culture's mapping of new design and new construction of libraries, which was carried out during the period 29 January to 11 February 2013. By contrast, the libraries experience that they have difficulties reaching older children and young people, and that they are seriously unsuccessful in relation to socially vulnerable people. The same pattern is repeated when the libraries are asked about their experience of being able to offer spaces and settings that match these different users' needs, behaviour and expectations. 100 % of the libraries that were asked place the adult user group within the three user groups that their libraries are best geared towards with their current design and layout. 72 % place young children and their parents within the same top three, while only 6 % place young people, and 19 % place older children aged 7-12 in the group of users that their library is best geared towards with its current design and layout. At the bottom of the list are the socially vulnerable, who are not placed in this category by any of the questioned libraries.

In other words, it appears to be a special challenge for libraries to create spaces and settings that match the 7-12-year-olds and the young people's wishes and needs as they consider future initiatives related to layout and design. And it seems to be an even greater task if the libraries are to contribute to strengthening the cohesion in Denmark through an active effort to offer space and activities that can contribute to including socially vulnerable people.

Danish libraries' assessment of which users their current interior design is best geared towards. The figure shows the percentage of libraries that place the shown user groups among the three user groups that they believe they are best geared towards.

Make your own contribution via the Facebook group

If you have examples or ideas about how libraries can create attractive spaces, settings and activities that can match different users' needs, or if you have comments to this article, please feel free to comment via the Facebook group.

13. Oct 2016 at. 14:25

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