Garaget –All this and books too

Garaget: a 100 year old garage at the intersection of three city districts. With an address just outside of the city centre but close to that invisible line between inner city and the suburbs this is a part of Malmo that’s exciting and challenging to work in. You can hear over a hundred different languages spoken here and you can meet young students, newly arrived refugees and Danish commuters. Comparatively high-income quarters are situated close to some of Malmo’s most socially and economically deprived areas. Garaget: a 100 year old garage at the intersection of three city districts. With an address just outside of the city centre but close to that invisible line between inner city and the suburbs this is a part of Malmo that’s exciting and challenging to work in. You can hear over a hundred different languages spoken here and you can meet young students, newly arrived refugees and Danish commuters. Comparatively high-income quarters are situated close to some of Malmo’s most socially and economically deprived areas.

The project idea

The doors of Garaget opened on the 8. of February, but the process leading up to the opening has been going on for some considerable time. The project’s steering group represents a cooperative effort between five municipal departments – three city districts and the city departments for culture and service.

The steering group’s project plan defines four fundamental areas of activity to be built on and developed.
1. Library service with roots in the neighbourhood is a central concept. Garaget is regarded as a forum for new ideas about library development – an experimental satellite connected to the Malmo City Library.
2. Garaget can even function as an arena for forming and evaluating various urban development projects under the auspices of The City of Malmo together with Malmo University.
3. Garaget should encourage participation and engagement focusing on patrons who take an active part in shaping and developing local activities.
4. Garaget was the result of a process where dialogue was the primary instrument. It’s quite natural then that Garaget should be a place where dialogue skills are taught and practised.

Development by dialogue

Local inhabitants were directly involved in the process. Focus groups consisting of Garaget’s future patrons were invited to the empty factory to take part in a dialogue. The make-up of the groups reflected their members’ different ages, gender and cultural backgrounds and consisted of citizens, members of local non-profit associations, representatives for local businesses, politicians and council employees. The possibilities inherent in Garaget were discussed from the point of view of the activities that were to take place there. The result of these discussions is collected in a document that is among Garaget’s most important steering policies. All manner of ideas were requested and suggested – from simple book requests to the library, to more comprehensive ideas such as “Garaget should epitomize creativity”. The results made it quite clear that there was a strong wish that Garaget should be an ongoing open process where visitors can influence the form and development of activities taking place there. As project leader I regard this material as Garaget’s ‘moral conscience’; a compass showing the direction of the process. Not an immutable canon, but a starting point which can be continually developed by dialogue with patrons, a dialogue that can be kept alive by ‘open meetings’ where all and anyone are welcome to participate in discussions about the future development of Garaget.

The process of dialogue involves a continual challenge and knowledge won in the process is collected and recycled in something we call ‘The Dialogue Lab’. The Lab is a constantly growing resource consisting of acquired competence and experience which is used in dialogues with the local community. Garaget is a place where people can turn to if they want to learn more about the dialogue process and where they can receive support, education and programmes which can be tailored to need.

Activities in Garaget

When Garaget opened it was more or less empty. Different activities should, it was thought, develop naturally and not be presented as a finished product. Garaget is a continually ongoing process. Subsequently, a great deal of effort has been devoted to meeting the requests and needs of patrons. One of the first objectives was to find furnishings that allowed Garaget to be flexible and open to change and at the same time be regarded as homely and inviting.We decided to use antique furniture to establish a cosy feeling and at the same time accede to requests that we be ecologically aware. The library was provided with bookshelves on wheels so that they could be easily moved as needed. A part of Garaget has floors of sprung parquet so that dancing, gymnastics and other physical activities can be performed without the risk of knee injuries. Movable walls in the form of screens on wheels and flexible curtain walls make the creation of rooms within rooms possible without preventing the production of larger events. The foundation for an ‘open workshop’ has been laid: handicrafts and simpler activities can now be worked on in a corner of Garaget; we supply tools, equipment and space and our patrons supply the material and the ideas. Garaget has even invested in technical solutions such as a film projector and sound and lighting systems. This is the way we always try to work in Garaget. Everything we do should increase usability and flexibility and be based on the real needs of patrons.

Initially we thought that it would be difficult to spread the word about Garaget and to convince people of its potential. On opening day the events calendar was quite empty. This however, has been the least of our problems. After just a few months we could see how attractive Garaget had become and how quickly its reputation spread. At the moment of writing we have more applicants for activities than we have place for.

Anyone wanting to do something in Garaget has entirely free hands. Furniture can be freely arranged as long as it’s put back afterwards, and all of our equipment is at the disposal of patrons. Garaget costs nothing to use and in certain cases we can even assist with event financing if the activity in question is relevant for others. Employees are there for support when needed but, with rare exceptions, do not organize events.Many activities take place outside of ordinary opening hours and those organizing these activities are responsible for the premises. This means Garaget is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Library service

To stimulate the development of library service in Garaget it is necessary to balance between two different perspectives. One being the task of finding new ways to promote and develop library service, the other is to see that the library develops in tandem with Garaget’s other areas of activity in dialogue with patrons. This creates a situation that is advantageous for the development of both perspectives. Another interesting and fundamental condition of Garaget is that project participants have chosen to see every part of the project as an aspect of the entire ‘Garage’ concept, and, in this joint process, different professional goals and experiences create unusual and interesting connections between the library and other spheres of activity.

The library in Garaget should reflect its users and their needs and in true 2.0 spirit this strengthens the value of the library services offered. There is no ambition, for example, to have an allencompassing collection; rather the focus is on meeting patrons’ demands and interests. The results of this approach are interesting. It’s rare that individual titles are requested, the preference being for literature within different subjects and categories: current fiction for example, language courses, ‘exciting’ art books or books about different types of hobbies. This is where the patron’s wishes meet the librarian’s competence in book selection.

A close dialogue with patrons is critical. A good example of this is Garaget’s collection of books in Arabic which were purchased in close cooperation with Garage patrons. A really enjoyable process in which I, after placing the order, was contacted almost daily by patrons wondering if the books had arrived and if I needed help in transporting them from the Post Office. Garaget is all about creating the right circumstances for individuals to be able to take an active interest depending on their own needs and not as the recipients of ready-packaged solutions. This is a fundamental principle of library service – a resource that presents possibilities. Modern technology is a must. Computers, Wi-Fi, printers, photocopiers, etc. are self-evident in a modern public library and Garaget is no exception.We plan to double the number of public computers, begin lending USB memory sticks and perhaps even chargers for various types of mobile devices. At the moment we’re looking at a ‘Media Square’ with equipment for working with music and graphics.We’re also investigating the possibility of replacing Windows with Linux as the operative system on the public computers. It’s a question of democracy. An open, free, user-operated system replaces one that’s closed, commercial and owneroperation. 2.0 replaces 1.0

Garaget is an interesting environment for a public library to operate in. The library is on the premises – in the same place where people come to mend their bikes, play basketball or drink coffee, and this allows interesting synergistic results. Opportunities for interaction with patrons are good and there’s always something going on: all kinds of meetings – between individuals, cultures and different capabilities. It’s the real world, happening now and the library is there, actively or passively. I have seen how my own role as a broker for information and culture has been transformed into something else – Garage-given competence allows us to function as social intermediaries by using the large local network to advise those patrons we may be unable to help where they can turn to for assistance.

The future

What is the next step then? Garaget is up and running smoothly; the open meetings we hold regularly are generally well attended. Interest in Garaget has grown, and more and more people and groups want to be a part of the process.We now know a good deal about what we can accomplish and what we could be better at, and we’re quite at home with the principles of the project. The outlook for 2009 is promising.

Among the ideas we’re looking at in 2009 is the need for more space in the premises. There are preliminary plans for a 2nd floor, perhaps with the ‘Media Square’ in mind. The development of special areas and options for children and young people is something of a priority. Many patrons have suggested that we arrange open discussions and we do have a number of exciting events on the books.

Garaget is going to be a pre-poll voting location in the 2009 EU elections. Cooperation with the Malmo University will be more concrete than ever as students are able to work in the immediate neighbourhood using Garaget as a base.

It’s impossible to predict exactly what the future holds. It depends on how patron-involvement develops. And of course … a certain measure of chaos is inevitable in a process where the commitment and involvement of patrons play such a central role.

Andreas Ingefjord
Project leader,

Translated by Greg Church

Project leader, Garaget