Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



The Library as an Inspiration Space

One of the library's key missions is to give its users new, meaningful experiences through storytelling and artistic expressions within literature, film, music, games, events etc. In addition to surprising and inspiring, the inspiration space also needs to put the experiences into a context, creating a visible connection between different media and media platforms. Thus, the library's inspiration space needs to tell stories and be communicative and changeable.

The inspiration space needs to make it possible both for more purposeful users to serve themselves and for ‘grazing’ users with more time available to find inspiration for new experiences. In principle, one does not exclude the other: The more purposeful user can also be tempted by the unexpected, just as the shopping, seeking user can feel safer in a library space that is laid out in a clear way. In this context, it is also possible to distinguish between the user who is familiar with libraries and the user who is a stranger to libraries.

Inviting experiences

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. Signage in the floor and on the walls provides clear guidance; The Rentemestervej Library uses both. At Ørestad Library, the first thing that meets the user is an interactive floor plan for the library. Selected points on the map show the library's offers as film, text and images, and by pressing the screen, users get a description of what they can find and where.

In order to accommodate the more unfamiliar user, the personnel at a number of Finnish libraries have switched from ‘sitting and waiting’ to ‘walking and talking’, so that the uniformed librarians now meet the users at eye level. At Ørestad Library, the personnel mingle with the users, carrying iPads.

Proactive personnel at libraries. Photos: Signal Architects

Clarity and surprise

The library's interior design is to support a clear and accessible communication of materials. This can be supported by dividing the library into various zones. The layout and furniture should also support serendipity, i.e. possibilities of ‘stumbling on’ something new.

At Aalborg Main Library, they work with a number of clearly defined spaces: the Oasis, which exposes fiction and invites people to take time to immerse themselves; the Pulse, which exposes the highly topical; the Stage, where films and music are played and where there are different kinds of performance; the Workshop, which inspires citizens to creative activity; and the Laboratory, which offers inspiring learning within IT. The Zone is a special area where the principle of serendipity is unfolded by mixing all kinds of media in unexpected ways – the current, the classical, the nerdy and the popular.

Roskilde Library has set up an exhibition zone with digital works and interactivity in relation to the project ‘Litteraturen finder sted’ (Literature Happens): The user must do something to the work in order for it to make sense. Here, you have to be active in order for a poem to be created.

Roskilde Library. Photo: Dorte Skot Hansen

At a number of Dutch libraries, they are working on a segmentation of users based on a market concept. At Nieuwe Bibliotheek in Almere, which is practically arranged as a bookshop, there are zones such as ‘high tension’ with thrills and marketing books (particularly) aimed at men, and the area ‘lifestyle’, which addresses women in particular, and which is placed next to the toddler zone. The concept is also very evident through a clear and visible signage of the different zones so that users – or customers – can easily find their ‘niche’.

Surprise and serendipity

Serendipity is about making room for the unexpected so that users find inspiration for new experiences (Bjørneborn 2008). This can be achieved by creating many different routes through the library as seen e.g. at Hjørring Library (see above). In this way, the space encourages exploration and makes it possible to discover new offers along the way. The Dutch libraries in Almere and Spijkenisse are also laid out with inspiration routes so that people can wander around the library and move through different zones.

Clear signage, overview maps, references and other spatial markers that make it easier to find what you are looking for can also stimulate users' curiosity. Serendipity is also supported by cross-contacts across subjects, materials, genres, media, activities and spaces.

Subjects, materials, genres, media, activities and spaces. Photos:

A certain level of disorder – whether created by personnel or by users – makes people want to turn pages or take a closer look. Page-turning troughs or exhibition podiums can keep the ‘mess’ in order.

The mess attracts. Photos: Signal Architects

Many large or small places to stay or sit encourage exploration and concentrated immersion.

‘Coding’ the space

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 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.

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.

The space as a story

The Experience Library in Cerittos close to Los Angeles has used time travel as its theme in order to speak the same language as the nearby Disney World and thus cater to users who are strangers to libraries. The children's library is staged within the theme ‘Save the Planet’ with a life-like Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, an artificial rainforest tree and a huge saltwater aquarium.

At the main library in Hjørring, a colourful and labyrinthine design hints at the medieval town's numerous winding streets. The space itself makes you want to go exploring, either by following the red ribbon that winds its way through the large one-room library, or by taking a look into one of the small niches that contain new surprises.

Staging can also be of a more architectural, aesthetic character – spaces that create a special mood or atmosphere. The large glass facades in Henning Larsen's extension to Malmö City Library, ‘Ljusets Kalender’ (the Calendar of Light) make use of the day's and the season's changes to create an almost sacred space that reminds us of life's changeability.

Seattle Public Library's over-sized ‘Living Room’, on the other hand, bears resemblance to a colossal greenhouse, a reminder of the library's role as a light and a life-giving place for the spirit to grow.

At Peckham Library in London, the large organic structures in the space form a contrast to the library's straight lines. The structures, which are clad in light wood, resemble large seed pods, and the space takes on a fairytale-like and warm expression, which is stressed by red carpets. The organic structures also serve as meeting rooms for small meetings and as playrooms for children.

Finally, the cool, white Mac style at Amsterdam's OBA can appear as a slightly ironic comment to the vision of a future IT-driven society. A story which the interior design itself contradicts through many small, often historical exhibitions in display cases and other exhibition objects, such as a vintage motorcycle.

The stage

Most large libraries have had a meeting hall available for events for many years. The current trend is that library spaces in themselves serve as a stage for events, and that more delimited, large or small stages are integrated into the space. The first is the case e.g. at Lyngby Public Library's large fashion show featuring remade second-hand clothes (see box).

At Malmö City Library, the large hall, the Calendar of Light, can quickly be converted into an events hall with room for 250 participants by simply moving away the wheeled bookcases. Everything from a presentation of world literature to Chinese New Year with the Peking Opera can take place here.

Amsterdam's Openbare Bibliothek (OBA) has an auditorium with seating for 275 as well as a number of smaller stages and exhibition places around the library. The film section includes the Cinematheque, and the literature section has an open stage for writers' events.

The flex stage at Åby Library

LitteraturStedet (the Literature Place) at Åby Library by Aarhus has created a space within the library where the communication of fiction takes centre stage. For this purpose, a special piece of furniture has been made on which books and other objects can be displayed and literature can be communicated digitally via one large and two smaller screens. The piece of furniture also contains a small stage and a meeting place. In connection with the special piece of furniture, a small collection of small-press publications has been established. The stage is used for thematic exhibitions and events with professional literary players, and the audience is involved, as the stage is made available for local literary players' and the library's own ‘open-the-book’ events.

The flex stage at Åby Library. Photo:

Read more about the design principles in connection with library spaces here.

Make your own contribution via the Facebook group

If you have examples or ideas of how spaces and interior design can invite users to enjoy new experiences at libraries, or if you have comments to this article, please feel free to contribute via the Facebook group.

05. Jul 2017 at. 13:51

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