MEDIASPACE – Aarhus’ new community centre – Marie Østergård

Marie Østergård
Involvement of the community and users is the only way to create a library that will be adaptable and flexible enough to meet the future.

MEDIASPACE is the working title of Aarhus’ new main library and Citizens’ Services that opens in 2014 on the harbour front of Aarhus. It is meant to be the city’s centre of knowledge and culture, focusing on people – an open democratic community. As a result of the digital revolution and the transformation from information society into knowledge society it has become increasingly necessary to rethink the physical framework of libraries so that, in the future, libraries will not only be temples of books where physical media are stored and distributed, but open democratic spaces of learning and experience where knowledge is exchanged and disseminated.

MEDIASPACE is planned to be approximately 30.000 m2 of which app. 10.000 m2 will be rented out for partners and network from a diversity of sectors. Inside the building, there must be numerous opportunities for experience, realization, activity and calm immersion, and at the same time the surrounding harbour areas should facilitate a diversity of outdoor activities that take place in dynamic, innovative interaction.

MEDIASPACE is part of the project Urban Mediaspace Aarhus. The project includes MEDIASPACE, transformation of the harbour front and construction of three new urban harbour spaces that links the city to the water, creation of a new infrastructure and construction of an automatic parking facility of 1000 spaces. Urban Mediaspace Aarhus is the City of Aarhus’ largest building project in recent times. The project should expand the city and create activity and a vivacious atmosphere in the area, while at the same time being a flexible, dynamic refuge, the setting of an open, easily accessible learning and experience environment, and a unique place for people’s self-expression and collaboration.

Community Involvement – the framework
In 2004, Aarhus City Council decided a specific “Aarhus Model for Citizen Involvement” that should be applied to larger building projects. On the basis of the City’s values of equality and openness, the model ensures that the citizens have real opportunities to be involved. On that basis the MEDIASPACE project is able to explore and develop methods of user involvement that can optimise proc¬esses and the project. Resources and time are therefore continuously set aside for the exploration of such processes of involvement. It has been emphasized that all participants and stakeholders in the project must give high priority to user involvement and user influence in relation to the project.
In the MEDIASPACE context, users are defined as users of the building, and work is continuously carried out to develop strategic and idea-gen¬erating networks. Usage and interests of citizens, collaboration partners and staff must be ensured, thus all parties must be involved in several phases of the process to ensure incorporation of ideas and needs. Therefore it has proven necessary in each phase to analyse the possibilities, the need for involvement and the methods to be applied. The intention is to go from traditional public hearings to implementation and realisation of user ideas and wishes regarding the project in a way that has a real effect on content and development.

Involvement in the building process
From the beginning of the project seven core values were developed in co-operation between users, partners, network, politicians and staff. The values were then passed in the city council and have been the project’s spine ever since. The importance of community involvement is exemplified in the first of the core values: “The citizens’ individual and diversified use of MEDIASPACE must contribute to forming the building, the content and the activities. Each citizen has a unique and personal purpose that is reflected in accessibility, offers and activities of the building…The citizen is an active player in the continuous development of the building and the activities. Involvement of citizens is an essential element in this development.”
As it has turned out the most important and also most controversial demand to all parties involved has been our insistence of direct citizens’ involvement in the project development. The project’s aim is to carry out true involvement processes – i.e. involvement processes that have a direct impact on the results. This has been an evaluation criterion in all the tenders that have been carried out in the project so far. The companies has been tested on their ability to construct processes that live up to the values and visions of the project as it has been crucial that the parties involved in the project realise that they must actively contribute to the process of involving the community in all steps of the process. It has made it necessary to investigate every building stage in order to decide what method and what level of involvement that makes most sense and has the greatest impact on knowledge generation. It has been a conscious decision to spend time and resources of all parties on involving citizens directly in the development through workshops, focal groups and discussion boards on all relevant stages of the project. And we must continue to do so.

To strengthen the strategic community involvement two advisory boards have been formed. Its members consist of a great variety of people – strategically chosen leaders from different organisations and companies and also people chosen because of their abilities of innovation or with special knowledge in areas such as architecture, education, technology and library development. These groups support the implementation of MEDIASPACE and contribute to generating ideas and activities. The establishment of these groups has created a unique opportunity to expand the organisational knowledge, and merging the political level with external networks makes it possible to directly involve a large number of different organisations and resource persons. By giving network and partners influence on the development strong relationships are build with relevant future partners.

Aarhus Public Libraries – a transformation lab
Aarhus Public libraries focus on innovation and development. The libraries are continuously working with user-driven innovation to improve existing offers and to develop new services. The aim is to meet the citizens’ needs with services adapted to the general development and to develop and test new forms of services and usage of spaces in the physical library.
MEDIASPACE’s timeframe has given us a unique chance to create a transformation and development lab for methods, activities and services, which gives continuous experience with users, and helps ensuring that crucial decisions are not based solely on theory but has been tested as far as possible in real life. For the past 10 years the main library has carried out a number of development projects targeting the physical library of the future. These projects focus on interactions in the field between users, media, technology and the physical space. At the same time the projects investigate how the library can establish and develop new partnerships with partners, network and users, thus enhancing the community influence on the physical library and developing it into a community space.
All development projects in the main library are evaluated specifically regarding MEDIASPACE in order to improve the knowledge basis upon which decisions are made in the building project. The knowledge is carried into the building process but also as far as possible implemented in the present physical library in order to improve user experience and work flows wherever possible.
Simultaneously the appearing demands and knowledge gaps that are discovered in the building process call for new investigations and thus give birth to new development projects in the present library that again can return as lab-results back into the building process.
There is no doubt that it is in the involvement of community and citizens that the library of the future lies – in the building process but just as important in the on-going development of a living organisation that should reflect society and its people, and hopefully in its on terms move people –maybe just a little bit – every time they come in contact with us.

Facts about Aarhus:
With its population of 300,000 people, Aarhus is the second-largest city in Denmark. It is centrally located in Denmark, and the many institutions of education in the city attract thousands of students from all parts of the country. The Aarhus area is rapidly growing in terms of population and jobs, and several urban development and infrastructure projects are in progress. The conversion of the Urban Harbour Areas in Århus is one of the largest urban development projects in the city’s history.
Aarhus Public libraries consist of one Main Library and 18 branch libraries. The libraries have a circulation of more than 5.3 million issues and 1.9 million visits per year. The present main library in Aarhus was built in 1934.

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