Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



The new role of library staff

The role of libraries is changing. Tasks change and encompass many different work areas. At the same time, competition with other culture providers is increasing, making it essential for both libraries and staff to stand out clearly to citizens.

Service briefing at Herning Library, where the yellow details on the staff's backs/ key chains create a visual identity for the staff, making them visible to visiting citizens.

Worth considering:

  • Where do citizens physically encounter a library staff member? How far into the library must a citizen walk before she meets a staff member?
  • How should the staff act? Standing up? Walking around?
  • How should the staff be dressed? (common uniforms or other characteristics such as a key chain)
  • What is the staff's role (guiding, facilitating processes, co-creating, optimising and developing the library in dialogue with citizens)? Read more on user involvement in Ideo’s design tool kit and in our text on the subject.

It so happens that the role of the staff is inextricably linked to the requirements about the library space. The greater the ambition, the greater the demands on the staff's professional and personal competences.

When the libraries' role changes, so does the staff's role. Today, library staff are assigned many different functions at the libraries. In addition, they have to be proactive, participate and facilitate to a greater extent than before in order to find collaboration partners (e.g. participate in events to draw attention to things that the library can also do).

The changing role of the staff in relation to space and users results in the following challenges:

  • The staff need to be visible at the library. The library must have service points where citizens can get help.
  • The staff must be outgoing, proactive and visible in relation to other partners.

Visible service points at the library

A number of years back, Hjørring Library created a stir when they designed their new library in collaboration with Rosan Bosch & Rune Fjord Studio. A huge Velkommen (Welcome) on the information counter is the very first thing to catch visitors' eyes by the entrance – brilliant and simple. Read more about the design of Hjørring Library in our case. This idea has been copied and re-used in many different ways at almost all Danish libraries.

Entrance area at Hjørring Library. Photo: Per Drustrup Larsen.

How should the staff act in the future?

It used to be common for library staff to sit behind a screen at a desk. The signal was – often unintentionally – passivity: It was up to the citizen to approach the staff member if he/she needed help.

Nowadays, library staff are to be found with citizens at a service desk or at a small service island in the middle of the room, or moving around among the bookcases. Today, the signal is: What can we find out together, here at the screen?

Service point in Vejle. Photo: Lone Ulvbjerg.

New visible service islands can be designed in many different ways

Service point at Gladsaxe Library with the word Velkommen embossed discretely on the right-hand side of the counter. Photo: Bruno Hansen.

The service point is a counter for the staff member, located in a visible front position.

Servicing staff at the library must be visible

Self-service is common at the libraries, but everybody can get help and guidance. This usually takes place in the service zone, where the visitor is first met by the library's many offers. There are examples of library designs that make it difficult to locate a staff member who is able to offer guidance.

Today, citizens and library staff often move around in multifunctional spaces, where the library is one of several facilities in a community centre that may contain, for instance, Citizen Service, health care centre, IT café, educational learning centre and tourist information. These multifunctional spaces and physical layouts call for library staff to be even more visible and easier to contact.

Recent years' development at libraries has focused increasingly on new demands on the staff, and new service methods have been tested:

Aalborg Libraries have collaborated with Silkeborg and Herning on a hosting project, which has addressed the need for a new approach to citizens. In the hosting project, the staff base their actions on a visitor strategy and the need for visibility/uniforms, typically a waistcoat, T-shirt etc.

At Aalborg Library, the staff uniform consists of a T-shirt and a key chain, which make them visible to the library's visitors.

Uniform clothing often has a negative ring to it in library circles. This is why the idea of wearing uniforms or other visual identification is still discussed at many libraries.

At Aars Library, the library's makerspace has been used to produce T-shirts for the staff. This makes it easy to renew the design and include staff directly in relation to uniforms.

Servicing staff outside the library must also be visible

Outreach activities may determine how library staff should appear: It may make good sense to create visibility by wearing a campaign shirt or T-shirt if you participate in outreach activities with other organisations and partners.

Frederikssund Libraries' staff in visible blue campaign shirts for the Health Day on the high street.

If staff undertake outdoor and outreach work, it may be appropriate, for instance, to wear a winter coat with a logo on the lapel to signal where they come from – here in connection with the project 'And you're out' for Aarhus Public Libraries. Photo: Poul Helge Andersen.

An example of a competence profile for staff members participating in a major development project on collaboration between libraries and schools contains the following recommendations:

  • The staff member should above all be professional, full of initiative and a good (project) manager.
  • The staff member should be a good communicator and a good networker.
  • The staff member should possess library-didactic competences.
  • It is an advantage if the staff member enjoys working with children and communicating with children, for instance by dressing up.

Pettson and Findus visiting the Library in Thy.

17. Mar 2017 at. 15:41

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