New spaces for new uses – Børge Søndergård

Børge Søndergård
The Danish Library Authority has just published (April 2010) its vision for the future Public library called: “The Public Library in the Knowledge Society”. The future for libraries falls in two categories:
-The digital library (must be on a national scale!)
-The local library – the physical place/space
None of the two can live without the other, but the item of my comment today is the physical space.
I am confident that we will see two main developments in public libraries:
-From (book) storage rooms to meeting places
-From transactions to relations
Soon every form of information will be available in digitized forms – right at this moment the e-book is penetrating the market with an enormous pace. Some predict that in 10 years tops, there will be no use of the traditional book, CD, DVD and other materials in “hardback”, everything is accessible on-line. So why use a public library? In my library we ask ourselves the same question every day, and we haven’t got the answer, but the fact is that people keep coming in enormous numbers to our libraries – for what reason?
My belief is that it is because libraries are wonderful places to be in! It is that simple. So why fear digitization – change your library perception – and focus on the great meeting place! Of course we still need to provide visitors with knowledge, culture and experience but the main thing is how we use and layout the public library space.
What we will experience in the near future are public libraries focusing on openness in every form, inspiration & learning and we will invite external partners to help develop and conduct library services. We will see libraries experimenting with new and different ways of service procurement, long opening hours “24/7/365”, and libraries developing from book rooms to meeting and hangout places with cafés and hundreds of activities around art, culture, learning and knowledge in a totally new library layout. Libraries will offer learning courses – inside the library and on-line.
But first and foremost the users will set the standards for our service.
So the main challenge is how to layout the library space in order to accommodate these new needs. Every library must decide for itself. We in Hjørring, Denmark, have done it our way – see later “the Red Thread” – you must do it in your way.

The new library model in Denmark:
In Denmark we see the physical public library as four intertwining spaces, that enables the library user to gain and receive empowerment, innovation, involvement and realization.

The red thread
New central library in Hjørring
On 12. April 2008 the new central library opened in Hjørring, a library that has attracted superlatives from critics in the Danish library press. The library is described as Denmark’s most exciting example of a 21. century public library, as the most spectacular and ultimate library for experience and a place ‘to be’. Quite a feat when you consider that the library has actually only been in the melting pot for about 18 months. The success is due to an extremely fortunate combination of the library staff’s well formulated visions and dreams about the library of the 21. century, a well-reputed and inquisitive library design company (BCI) and some ‘wild’ artists (Bosch & Fjord).
The library is placed on the first floor of a shopping centre with 40 shops and underground parking facilities for 500 cars. We have had no influence on the architectural aspect, but have been able to bring maximum influence to bear on the interior design.

Visions and dreams
It was patently clear to us that the library as a physical space had to be redefined if it were to compete/supplement the patrons’ use of digital and virtual information and experience opportunities. The library space had to be turned into a place which naturally contained our materials, but where these were mediated much more aggressively, in a more exciting way and in surroundings and contexts that would induce the user to settle down, concentrate, be inspired and tempted. We knew that already today 50% of the patrons do not come to borrow materials, but use the library for quite different purposes.
We had several overriding approaches. First and foremost we saw the library in the shopping centre as what researchers’ call “The third place” – the place that is not home and not work, but a meeting place, the square in the free space where one goes to watch, to be seen, to experience, learn, play and ‘be’. We wanted a library space in transformation. We found inspiration in the theatre that all the time must stage new plays, which is why there also had to be room for ‘props and set pieces’ and ‘actors and assistant stage managers’. We decided to work with the three concepts – ‘stage, store of set pieces and backstage’ – where stage was the variable and magic space in which users would meet the library. Finally, we were very impressed by Danish architect Jan Gehl, who i.a. concerns himself with the question of why one cannot design towns with large, straight planes, because human beings are born to move at 5 and not 50 kilometres an hour, that people cannot thrive in the tyranny of straight lines, but want nooks, angles, hideouts and edges. We wanted a room that encouraged you to settle down, to learn and experience and which in the children’s department also provided inspiration for using the body. We wanted many ‘rooms’ in the large room so that everyone would be able to find their ‘strawberry patch’.
We combined the above with the wish to mediate the materials with ‘the face’ and not the back towards the users. We wanted to create the possibilities for a much stronger indirect mediation through exhibition equipment and artefacts.

Take 2 artists …
For the realisation of the library’s dreams we chose the firm Bosch & Fjord. Rosan Bosch and Rune Fjord are two artists who are incredibly devoted to applying and developing art that can be used by human beings. Over the years the firm has expanded with designers and architects. Bosch & Fjord had never handled a total design of a library but we brought them in together with BCI who are used to handling large library design projects. At a workshop in the spring of 2007 we managed to provide each other with enough input for Bosch & Fjord to return in August and present the basic concept for the library of the future.
Together we decided to be pretentious enough to insist on becoming the PIVOTAL POINT OF THE TOWN, from which red veins/tentacles were to stretch out and lead people to the library. This is where what today is synonymous with Hjørring Library came into being – namely the red ribbon, a mediatory element which in quite concrete terms winds it way through the library, sometimes in the floor and sometimes moving up from the floor turning into tilted shelves, bookcases, exhibition furniture, seats, gates, tables with bar stools, librarian service points etc. And sometimes it just grows into the air and is art. It twists and turns through and round bookcases, furniture and other equipment and installations.
We decided that the library’s three key areas should be: The town’s meeting place, the town’s undisturbed work place and the town’s source of inspiration and mediation. If this was our objective, we had to face three challenges: how to combine activity & contemplation in the same room? How to handle age groups? And finally, how to mediate? The mediation was partly managed with the red ribbon, but is supplemented with orange theme niches, books exhibited from floor to ceiling in certain places as well a quite a number of other examples of curiosities. Activity and contemplation we handled by designing the room so that the design in itself signalled the acceptable level of noise. And finally we chose designs that would mean that children and adults are not directed to their separate ‘reservations’, but in fact are moving around in each other’s zones. Generally speaking, the library has undergone a rejuvenation, and it has been a great pleasure for us to see young people ‘capture’ the library once again.

A little guided tour
To mention the many details of the design would take up more space than is available to me here, but let me take you for a little walk. At the entrance we meet the large, broad red ribbon in the floor, which leads across a square and up to the large service counter. ‘Welcome’ is says in enormous letters. On the way we have passed the lounge on our left with its smart sofas, magazines and a screen with news, TV and artwork. Also new materials are introduced on the ribbon. On our right we have the café which has become immensely popular. The red thread leads us on past bright orange-coloured study cells with green liane pattern on the glass to a pink conversation piece of furniture by Play station, film and games. Here we also find the poem staircase. In the middle of the room one of the set pieces stores is hidden behind bookcases from floor to ceiling (which you need ladders to reach) and where the books on a par with the best booksellers are exhibited with their fronts facing outwards. Here you also find the orange theme niches – one for sound, one for picture and one for objects. When we have moved far into the library, the bookcases change colour from white to mahogany. We have now arrived in the open stack – a classical library environment with chesterfield chairs and a very long reading room table with a green streak of light.
The children’s library is an orgy in opportunities for self-expression, both physically and contemplatively. Here is Pipi’s hideout surrounded by a large green field, a bubble wall with reading tubes, a roller coaster bookcase, a gigantic ‘puddle’ of krøyer-balls where you can sprawl. But also electronic installations like ‘the quibbler’, ’critic’s box’ and ’the animator’. Naturally, we have also created a V.I.P. corner – ‘Very Important Parents’ – where adults can enjoy a café latte and browse through exciting magazines and relevant books.
Our very brief tour has now taken us back to the Café which is adjacent to the library’s Multi-Hall with room for 200 people. Hall, foyer and café also have their own entrance and can be used outside the library’s opening hours.

But why not follow the red thread and come and visit us? We are looking forward to seeing you.

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