Opening the library

People entering the Vestre Toten Public Library are inspired to read and to explore the library’s collections. The library entrance makes them stop and look, even when they really meant to pass by. Busy people soon find something of interest, while others stay much longer – and that was precisely our intention.

The library’s identity

The Vestre Toten public library provides library services to a population of some 12,500. The municipality lies roughly two hours by road from Oslo. The main library is situated in Raufoss, a community with considerable agricultural activity in addition to industrial plants employing highly-skilled workers. The library building, which dates from 1978, has high ceilings and a total area of some 450 sq.m. The library is part of a cultural centre and we tend to place the emphasis on culture- related aspects of library activities. We are obliged to make a choice with regard to profile and collections within the confines of the space available. Consequently we give priority to active, outward promotion and our collections consist mainly of fiction, films, comics and music. Library identity was our starting point, when in 2006 we began to plan the rebuilding of the library. One precondition was that attention should be paid to the principle of ‘universal design’, ensuring access to all, regardless of disablement or limited mobility. Other aspects of importance included greater awareness of user behaviour, a purposeful development of our collections and a strong desire to promote the library’s contents.We were familiar with the British concept known as ‘Opening the Book’ and with its founder Rachel van Riel. Her ideas concerning patterns of user behaviour were particularly helpful when it came to planning the library interior. During the planning stage we considered choices based loosely on user categories we had formulated for ourselves. These included the busy borrower, the routine borrower, the book lover, the sceptic, those who know exactly what they are looking for – and those who do not. Research shows that this latter category represents the largest group of borrowers and is increasing all the time. This was a situation we hoped to rectify.

Entrance area and reception

The entrance area is the library’s most important feature as far as fittings and design are concerned. This is also the area most influenced by ‘Opening the Book’. The library entrance must appeal to all categories of users and make them feel welcome. It should provide a tempting impression of what the library has to offer, giving a clear picture of the nature and breadth of its contents and surprising visitors in a positive manner. The entrance area should contain several display points where selected samples of the library’s contents can be presented and where the visitor in a hurry may perhaps find something of interest.

Display furniture

The display fittings in the entrance area function well in attracting the attention of visitors. They are of a convenient height, accommodate an acceptable number of books and offer a good general view. The angle and height are such as to invite visitors to take hold of a book – and this is often enough to achieve the desired result. Displays are completely changed every fortnight, or even sooner, in order to offer visitors new suggestions and ideas. The books are arranged so that the front covers fit well together and the title and author are clearly visible. There is a great difference between book covers in England and those in Norway. Paperbacks and bright colours are normal over there, whereas in Norway the majority of books are still hardback with their covers in subdued colours.We have developed our own ‘Norwegian method’ to display the books in relation to each other.

New books are not to be found in the entrance area. They have their own place further on in the library. The display racks serve to present books already on our shelves, books which are easily forgotten once the initial excitement surrounding their publication has died down. Classic novels are also well suited to being promoted in this way. Films and music are displayed separately near the entrance, the aim being to underline the breadth of the library’s collections even before visitors have really entered. This first impression may well decide whether or not they go any further.


This task began with a study tour where we drew inspiration from others, the Asker Library deserving particular mention.We have chosen a more extensive categorisation than before on the basis of our newly-acquired knowledge that the majority of borrowers are not really sure what they are looking for. Both the ‘borrower in a hurry’ and the ‘routine borrower’ appreciate this categorisation. In addition to nonfiction, categorisation has now been extended to certain areas of fiction and we have put together a separate display of selected classical works, both new and old.

This initiative took place at the same time as a wide-spread debate on our literary heritage in the Norwegian press and the selection has been made with the help of ‘The Western Canon’ by Harald Bloom, the American critic and professor of literature. The result can of course be discussed – and we are happy to do so! Similar categories have been drawn up to cover light reading and crime novels. Together with the improved display system, this makes works of fiction more easily accessible to the majority of users.

Collection development and discarding Our book collection had to be considerably reduced, both because it was full of dead and obsolete material and because we needed space for the new method of display. In advance of the rebuilding we therefore carried out an extensive programme of elimination according to the method formulated by Niels Ole Pors, professor at the Royal School of Library and Information Science. This is a systematic, quantitative method of discarding which aims to ensure that the books on the shelves are attractive to library users, while at the same time giving consideration to breadth, quality and the wishes of the public.

While this discarding process was being carried out, the need to improve our collection of classical works led to our trawling through antique bookshops to find the older literature we lacked. This process has resulted in a more active attitude towards our collections among the library staff.

Children and young people

The children’s section was the first to start discarding material according to the Pors method and also here we carried out an extensive categorisation of works of fiction. Since the rebuilding left the children’s section with less space, it has been redefined as only for children up to ten years old. Older children will feel more at home in the rest of the library.

We have no specific department for young people. Instead the whole library is available to them. Of course, wherever they find comics, an audio chair, some magazines and books for teenagers, that is where they tend to gather.

Colour and design – listen to the professionals!

Colours were chosen in close cooperation with the architect and the interior designer. Apart from the design of the entrance area, we felt obliged to respect the building’s original style. The vision was clear enough but not the means to achieve it. Many of the colours we now find most satisfying would never have been chosen without professional advice. Do not make such decisions on your own. Listen to the experts!


The number of visitors has risen by 25%! We also have the impression that many people spend more time in the library than before, although we have no statistics to support this belief. From random tests we do know, however, that categorisation has had an effect. In the classical category borrowers often take out books which previously stood untouched on the shelves. Now the local people are proud of their library, which in turn gives higher status to reading. Our only problem rests with the waiting lists…

Elisabeth Lund
Chief Librarian,
Municipality of Vestre Toten

Elisabeth.lund AT

Translated by Eric Deverill

Chief Librarian, Municipality of Vestre Toten