Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



The four-space model

This article was written by Henrik Jochumsen, Associate Professor, Department of Information Studies, University of Copenhagen

In recent years, the four-space model has become widely used among both professional librarians and architects and designers involved with libraries. This applies to the construction of new libraries, the modification of existing libraries and the interior design of the individual library spaces. The model is also used to illustrate and explain current library developments and future library plans to the general population and politicians.

Ever since the model was launched, it has been particularly instrumental in ensuring that the concept of the performative library space – which describes the library as a space for creative activities, innovation and co-production of public services – is now incorporated as a natural element of a modern library. The four-space model is used not only in Denmark, but also influences the international library debate and developments. The widespread use of this model is probably due to two factors: First of all, the model meets an urgent need to establish a common language and frame of reference relating to library developments, construction and interior design. Secondly, the model’s simple graphical depiction (one square and four circles) makes the library’s wide variety of functions easier to comprehend and thus to communicate, discuss and prioritise.

The four-space model was developed by: Dorte Skot-Hansen, Casper Hvenegaard Rasmussen and Henrik Jochumsen. Illustration: Aarhus Library.


The four-space model was originally developed as part of the report Folkebibliotekerne i videnssamfundet (Public Libraries in a Knowledge-based Society), published in 2010. The intention of the model was to address the challenges confronting libraries in a knowledge-based, experience society. At the same time, the model seeks to illuminate libraries’ potential to meet new or changing user needs. Accordingly, the model can be used as a tool for both analysis and development. The key challenges confronting libraries include digitisation, tough competition from steadily increasing cultural and experience offerings and changing patterns of library use. New user needs can be related to factors such as sharing non-commercial meeting places with other people, getting involved and creating something together with others and being able to learn, develop and grow throughout life. Basically, the model reflects how the library itself is departing from primarily focusing on a collection of materials to increasingly being a space for the mediation of cultural and literary experiences; a space which supports digital education and lifelong learning; a space for human interaction across generations, gender and ethnicity; and a space which gives users an opportunity to personally participate, create and innovate.

Focus and diversity

The four-space model applied to Roskilde Library. Illustration: Roskilde Library.

As is apparent, the model embodies four overarching aims for the public library: Acknowledgement/Experience, Empowerment, Involvement and Innovation. Two of these aims – Acknowledgement and Empowerment – clearly refer to classic library values such as enlightenment, cultural education and social mobility. The other aims, i.e. Involvement and Innovation, are more focused on new values relating to concepts such as social capital, cohesion in a local community and providing an opportunity for users to acquire new skill-sets to cope in an ever-changing world.

The model also demonstrates how a multiplicity of widely varying library offerings can be part of the various spaces, without sacrificing the library’s focus or identity. The model is intended notably to form the basis for discussion and diversity – not serve as a single common template: one size doesn’t fit all. The example below from Roskilde Library shows how the model has been adapted to meet the needs of a local library-development process.

The Four Spaces

The model’s four different spaces are described below. It is important to emphasise that the individual spaces will always be specifically prioritised and completed according to the needs of the local community where the library is located.

The Inspiration Space
This space is intended to stimulate meaningful experiences. The source of the inspiration can be found in all media (both analogue and digital) and across the entire genre spectrum. The inspiration space should preferably inspire users to take unusual choices. The library has always been an inspiration space, whether associated with learning and enlightenment or leisure activities and entertainment. In recent years, there has been a need to rethink the library as a space for inspiration to address the challenges of the so-called experience community. Cultural institutions are currently engaged in cut-throat competition, resulting in important concepts – e.g. experience, storytelling and expressive communication – becoming important to libraries as well. Today, one manifestation of this trend is the large number of events, gatherings and activities taking place at libraries, preferably in cooperation with different partners from the local community. This requires a new, open and flexible library design that provides space for events and for inspiring, experience-orientated communication activities. A library can be an experience all its own by virtue of its interior design, colour scheme and staging, thereby encouraging play, surprise and new ways of using the library space. Today, there is also growing awareness that the experience potential increases when users are actively involved. This makes it important for libraries to support and provide space for reading circles, listening clubs and other similar activities.

The creative design choices of the atrium at Aalborg Central Library support quietness and immersion. Photo: Peter Søholm Simonsen, Aalborg Central Library


The Meeting Space
In a segmented society, it is important to be able to meet others whose values and interests differ from one’s own to invite being personally challenged as well as growing and developing. The library as a meeting space is an open, public space where it is possible to meet like-minded people, but especially those who are not. The library has always been a venue where people meet, but our increasingly multicultural society has brought focus to bear on spaces where human encounters can generate common understanding and societal cohesion. The concept of “the third space” often comes up when considering the library as a meeting space, as the library is a place where people can casually meet outside the spheres of home and work. Another concept is a “low-intensity meeting place” signifying that it gives us an opportunity to meet people who differ from us, unlike those in our usual spheres of activity. A library can maximise its meeting space potential by focusing on open lounge and relaxation spaces which facilitate interpersonal interaction – both random and organised, such as meetings designed for discussing topics and issues. This requires the envisioning of spaces for random encounters in small intimate set-ups, lounge areas with newspaper-reading and café facilities, as well as spaces for larger, more organised meetings for communal illumination and debate of topics and themes.

Top: The lounge area at Herning Central Library. Photo: Thomas Mølvig. Bottom: The meeting space also facilitates organised encounters for shared enlightenment and reflection, in this instance at a lecture at Gentofte Central Library. Photo: Leif Bolding


The Learning Space
The learning space is where children, young people and adults can discover and explore the world, while enhancing their skill-sets and options through open, unobstructed access to knowledge and information. The library is a space for informal learning but also a space which facilitates learning at formal educational institutions. The focus on the library as a learning space has intensified in recent years. This is due to digital developments and intensified global competition which emphasise the significance of lifelong learning. Also, Denmark’s public school reform of 2014 gives high priority to the action area of encouraging cooperation among libraries, schools and other educational institutions. The strength of having a library as a learning space is that the learning becomes a dialogue-orientated process based on users’ personal experiences and learning needs in an informal learning space. Besides providing access to analogue and digital information and knowledge, it is important that the library facilitates learning by having adequate study spaces and spaces for group work, while providing space for “homework cafés” and open courses at the same time. In addition, libraries must be keenly aware of young people’s need for more experience-orientated learning through interactive, social learning patterns.

Study spaces with room for teaching or group work at the library (BIBLIOTEKET) on Rentemestervej. Photo: Adam Mørk


The Performative Space
In the same way that we often cite how libraries have undergone a developmental process “from collection to connection”, we also refer to the transition “from collection to creation”. The library as a performative space reflects this transition. Users can utilise a performative space with other users to be inspired and have an opportunity to create their own creative expressions or innovative solutions. In the performative space, users can also access tools and materials which support their creative activities and, if possible, they can receive support from professional artists, designers, multimedia developers, etc. Finally, the performative space can serve as a platform for communicating, publishing and distributing users’ works and products and for staging their various activities. In fact, the library as a performative space is nothing new, as libraries have previously served as a setting for various workshop activities. But new generations of so-called “digital natives” have been instrumental for ensuring that user-involvement, user-driven innovation and the general transition from passive recipient to active co-creator are outstanding elements of libraries. Specifically, the library as a performative space can be supported and developed by making room for various informal workshop activities or in the form of outright makerspaces and fablabs at the library.

Makerspace at Vordingborg Library. This space enables creativity, interaction and co-creation by making materials and tools available, transforming the library into both a workshop and an exhibition venue. Photo: MH-foto

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