Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



Interplay between the library's activities and the library spaces

The library shows the way to experiences. Photo: Ørestad Library

The development of the Internet and thus the virtual library has required a rethink of the interior design of the physical library. The library should serve as different ‘spaces’ that facilitate experiences, exploration, participation and creation.

At some libraries, such as Tårnby, they work with zones in the form of programmed areas, while in other places, e.g. Hjørring, they work with more fluid and flexible spaces. In any case, it is necessary to consider many, often contradicting needs. In the following, three dimensions are indicated, which particularly challenge the interior design or the re-design of the library space.

Reflection from the vision group

Functional spaces or experience spaces?

At the classical library, library design was aimed particularly at creating functional library spaces based on peace and quiet, order and retrieval. Today, architects, designers and artists increasingly work on creating an ambience, an atmosphere and experiences in relation to a space's use and the target group that it addresses. This may be, as can be seen at the new main library in Amsterdam Openbare Bibliotheek in Amsterdam (OBA), a cool ‘Mac library’, which is to appeal particularly to the creative class, or by contrast, a warm, inclusive space that will make unfamiliar users feel at home, as seen in Peckham in London or at Garaget in Malmö.

Reading corner in a homely style in Garaget, Malmö. Photo: Signal Architects / Mac style reading corner at Openbare Bibliotheek, Amsterdam. Photo: Archined

The library space is to inspire and arouse curiosity through interactive and vivid communication of its offers. At Aarhus Main Library, the project ‘Forvandlingsrum’ (Transformation Space) has explored new possibilities of involving users in the space. However, the space can also be an experience in itself by means of light, sound and staging that engage participants physically and sensuously in the space. At the Dutch state-of-the-art' library in Floriande, the light can be changed in accordance with the required mood.

In Hjørring, the red ribbon, which winds its way through the library like blood veins, creates a cohesive story that is to inspire users to see new possibilities and enter into dialogue with the surroundings.

Individual space or common, public space?

At one end of this scale, the space serves as a place where the individual user can have his or her individual need met. The floor plan, furniture and IT facilities are arranged so that users can find and use the library's offers, either on their own in peace and quiet, or in one-to-one conversations with library staff. This calls for clarity in the floor plan, clear signage, easy retrieval of materials within all media and media platforms, and visible access to help.

One of the most consistent examples of the individual library space is the iMac-like cubes at the Openbare Bibliotheek in Amsterdam. This is a place targeted specifically at users who need a semi-shielded, individual workplace. Photo: Openbare Bibliotheek, Amsterdam

At the other end of the scale, emphasis is placed on developing the library into an open, public meeting space, where citizens can meet others in a casual context. This could be a lounge with cafe life and newspaper reading, where the library becomes a third place between home and work, as seen at Copenhagen Main Library and Hjørring Library.

Many users choose to position themselves in the library's cafe where they can meet other users, read books or newspapers, and quickly fetch coffee or a snack. Photo: Hjørring Library

The public space can also take the form of more organised debate meetings, exhibitions and events where the library serves as the city's or the city district's stage. It can be a specifically designed hall with professional light and sound installations as at the Rentemestervej Library, or it can be more makeshift as at the Calendar of Light at Malmö City Library, which can accommodate more than 600 spectators when the wheeled bookcases are moved aside.

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

Reflection space or performative space?

With the library's many new functions and activities, many people miss the peace and quiet for concentration that the traditional, quiet library space encouraged. Even so, many libraries still aim to maintain quiet in delimited zones and by arranging seating and workplaces that facilitate concentration. This can be in the form of modern armchairs and a view of Kronborg Castle as in Elsinore, or through the design of nostalgic ‘gentlemen's rooms’ with Chesterfield furniture as in Hjørring, where the atmosphere signals concentration and reflection.

At the Culture Yard in Elsinore, it is possible to enjoy the view of the harbour and Kronborg Castle from an integrated chair/table furniture element. Photos: The Culture Yard, Elsinore

One challenge in this connection is that these reflection spaces at the library are often located close to main areas and that they may therefore end up being more of a statement of intent than actual spatiality and positioning that support the possibility of finding peace and quiet for concentration. It is then interesting to discuss in this connection that many users – not least younger ones – often choose to position themselves close to the library's main area and life, despite the fact that they are seemingly occupied by activities that require peace and quiet. And this is regardless of the fact that the library makes it possible to withdraw to more peaceful surroundings. They want to sit close to the community that creates diversion and dynamics without necessarily participating actively in the community. They cultivate what architect Jan Gehl calls ‘passive contacts’.

From shielded cell to active sociality

The performative spaces

At the noisier end, the library stands out as a vibrant, performative space. Here, users have access to tools that support their creative and innovative efforts, and stages are available for their activities. Library 10 in Helsinki is an obvious Nordic example of this.

American Aaron Schmidt, expert and advisor on library design, writes after his visit to Library 10 in Helsinki:

Library 10. Even though it is the central library it is considered a music library and there aren’t many books. Right now about 70 pct. of the space is devoted to people and 30 pct. to materials. Their next design will expand the space for people to 80 pct..

It’s a music library, It still provides many of the services you’d expect from a traditional public library but really comes alive as a space and place for users to discover, collaborate, perform, record, discuss and perhaps more importantly, enjoy music.  It seems to have captured the imagination of users across a range of demographics and has successfully appealed to younger users in a non-patronising way!

Reference: A library design consultancy, shop and blog by Aaron Schmidt.

However, American libraries, for instance in Philadelphia, are also working on creating ‘maker spaces’ for self-grown and citizen-run activities. The demotheque is another example. At six of Copenhagen's libraries, 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 Insurance 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, there are 80 demotheques. So far, there are only demotheques 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.


Tech Lab in Aarhus

In Aarhus, the Main Library's entrance area featured a Tech Lab throughout February 2013. Here, it was possible to build and play with technology, invent and repair technical gadgets, or learn and talk about technology. People could have a go at a great variety of activities and participate in various workshops. Tech Lab was organised by Open Space Aarhus and the Main Library as a part of Aarhus People's Lab.

Read more at and (In Danish)

Make your own contribution via the Facebook group

If you have examples or ideas about how to create interacting diversity and flow at libraries by means of spaces and interior design, or if you have comments to this article, please feel free to comment via the Facebook group.

18. May 2017 at. 10:44

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