Commitment, recognition and flexibility

Commitment, recognition and flexibility are the mantras in future physical library design if we want to accommodate “the good life”.

Over the past five-six years we have created good frames for the virtual library, for infrastructure and self-service, and are now facing the challenge of a physical library which could in the future lose its appeal and content in terms of the users – if we don’t start thinking along innovative lines.

In an attempt to once again appraise the library concept and create a new physical library that matches the societal aspect of post modernity, five libraries launched the topical factors: innovation and networks. The libraries in question were Aalborg Public Libraries, Randers Library, Viborg Libraries, Herning Libraries and Odense Central Library.

As a project ‘The Third Way’ received financial support from the Danish Library Agency’s development pool and ran from 1. May 2007 until 1. March 2008. The project resulted in 4-6 illustrated concepts for a radically new library space and a method-based model for the development of innovative processes in the library world, thus also being a tool for professionally orientated innovation management.

The title ‘The Third Way’ was introduced as a continuation of the first ‘way’ with its internal focus on the collection, the activity and the staff as the 2. way with its focus on virtual resources, homepages and catalogues. With the 3. way we want to create an oasis where the citizen can learn, be challenged and stimulated to look at everything in quite a different perspective. However, it remains a postulate if the libraries’ physical design does not support this objective.

The process consisted of an incubator of eleven members from the participating libraries who in a delimited knowledge space over three workshops let problems and possibilities confront the inspiration from external consultants and speakers. Here we gained inspiration from i.a. sociologists, our own library world, firms of architects, talks on public/private partnerships and Ikea (firm of modern furniture design). This happened over three workshops in the autumn 2007 and was presented at the concluding conference in Middelfart on 28. February 2008.

During the innovative process it was very valuable for the project participants to be ‘transported’ away from their ordinary daily tasks and be able to devote themselves to the task of being ‘idea plotters’. Not least because the incubator was obliged to build up from scratch new common concepts and views of the surrounding world, with thoughts on societal tendencies and the historical context of the library, and subsequently – with inspiration from external speakers – to build up new common references. In this way, ideas and themes for the future physical library were crystallised first with an internal and later with an external library perspective. Future concepts were tested in front of consulting panels consisting of politicians, professionals and borrowers. The sessions were essential in relation to the final version of the concepts.

Crucial in the entire process was the library’s attempt to be the central catalyst in the pursuit of “The good life”. A life where you must be “on the alert” all day long, where you build up your identity, but also where you need to retreat and find your roots.

The four concepts which were the result of “The Third Way” are not complete designs, but should be seen as a possibility to comply with the analysis of the surrounding world which had been compiled through the project.

The Pit Stop Library

The Pit Stop Library is based on intersections, i.e. those times in our lives when we stop short and change direction. This led to the idea of pit stop – the need to be ‘tanked up’ and get on with life. If we – as a library – are to be able to play a part in this concept, we must get to know our borrowers better and be able to identify the relevant life situations. This concept is based on the self-knowledge as an accommodating library, i.e. the last visible public space with free access to dialogue, interaction and communication. The last visible place where you can go in and be challenged in your perception of needs and self-knowledge. In order to be able to identify the needs it is suggested that the users be divided into: the private person, the citizen and the professional.

The On-off Library

The On-off Library’s design is based on the realisation that in certain situations a person needs to ‘be on’ and in others he needs to retreat. The On-room encourages one to take part in activities, test various possibilities, interact etc. whereas the Off-room suggests that one should recharge batteries, reflect and immerse oneself in thought.

The Thematic Library

The Thematic Library places the user at the centre and lets the players of the community and society’s swift changes be reflected in the library’s design. In a number of thematically separated rooms where all users can recognise themselves the library staff provide the frames together with local players and interest groups. The rooms are supposed to – without rigid age limits – be characterised by better exposition of materials, digital media and more activities.

The service concept

The service concept places human resources at the centre and lets them interact with the physical design. Here it must be possible to get immediate response to both a simple inquiry and the kind that demands specialist knowledge. The service concept signals that librarian service has a special value, just as the duty rotas are questioned.

One of the most crucial and difficult tasks of the project turned out to be the leap from ideas plan to concept plan. The keyword in this connection was visualisation. Not until ideas and concepts were visualised by the 3D illustrators did the concept become operational and ready to be presented to the library world.

Summing up the four concepts can be characterised by the fact that they wish to establish a far more committed and accommodating library that lives up to the present needs for ‘Bildung’, education, learning and perception – i.e. an up-to-date creation of self.

Read more about the project at:

Ove Hesselbjerg Rasmussen
Project coordinator, Aalborg Public Libraries
Project manager, The Third Way

ora AT

Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Project coordinator, Aalborg Public Libraries Project manager, The Third Way